Anglo-Saxon Gemstone Relic Found in Suffolk

Experts think it fell from the regalia of a lord on horseback.

In the 2021 film, The Dig, the story of Sutton Hoo is told from the perspective of wealthy land owner, Edith Pretty, as she hires an amateur archaeologist to excavate a mysterious earth mound on her property. The story is based on true history and the site would later become world famous as the treasure-filled collection of early Medieval Anglo-Saxon burials was uncovered in the following years. The area has since been a source of many early pieces of armor, as well as other relics from this period of history and isn’t done giving up treasures as an amateur metal detectorist recently uncovered the gemstone scabbard mount of a prestigious lord.

Sutton Hoo on a sunny day
Sutton Hoo, once part of the Anglo-Saxon kingdom that united Norfolk and Suffolk. Via: Mike Prince/Flickr

The discovery was made in April of 2021 in the Breckland area of Norfolk, England. Though the area has been a hotbed of archaeological finds, there is no specific site or burial associated with this particular find.

The item is made from garnets set in gold in the shape of a pyramid and accented with sections of gold inlay in various patterns. The stones are thought to have come form either India or Sri Lanka, and would have been only seen on the garb of someone with very high status.

Sutton Hoo garnet scabbard
Via: Norfolk County Council/Portable Antiques Scheme

The pyramid object was part of the mechanism that kept a scabbard around a sword. There would have been two of these garnet pyramids on the scabbard and losing one “was like losing one earring…very annoying” according to Finds Liaison Officer, Helen Geake. Experts suspect that the 12mm object was lost while a lord was riding on horseback.

Under UK laws the find is possibly considered treasure since it’s made of gold and is more than 300-years-old and therefore must be reported to the authorities- which it was. Despite the exclusivity of such an object the reality is that many such gemstone scabbard pieces have been found in England – some also made from garnet and gold and in somewhat similar designs.

Sutton Hoo garnet scabbard
Via: Norfolk County Council/Portable Antiques Scheme

The most recent find is estimated to be from between 560 and 650 AD, during which time the area would have been part of the East Anglia kingdom (comprised of Norfolk and Suffolk). Some historians speculate that these scabbard accessories were designed as safety features that made drawing one’s sword in anger much more difficult. At the time swords would have been prestigious weapons, likely carried only with the king’s permission.