The Numismatic Bibliomania Society



The E-Sylum: Volume 24, Number 5, January 31, 2021, Article 22


Dick Hanscom forwarded this BBC article about the new film on the excavation of the Sutton Hoo, the magnificent buried Viking ship uncovered in England in 1939. -Editor

Sutton Hoo film The Dig

Netflix's The Dig tells the story of the Anglo-Saxon longship that was unearthed at Sutton Hoo in 1939. It was an extraordinary find in more ways than one, writes Neil Armstrong.

When the craft had been manoeuvred into the trench prepared for it, mourners laid the grave goods in the burial chamber in its centre. Then a mound was raised over it. And there the ship lay, moored fast in the East Anglian earth but journeying through time until, 13 centuries later on the eve of World War Two, a man called Basil Brown discovered it.

The incredible find, dubbed "Britain's Tutankhamun", is the subject of The Dig, a new Netflix film adapted from John Preston's novel of the same name. It stars Ralph Fiennes as self-taught archaeologist Brown and Carey Mulligan as Edith Pretty, the landowner who employed him to excavate the mysterious barrows on her estate at Sutton Hoo overlooking the River Deben in Suffolk.

Other ship burials had been excavated but nothing of this size. Before this, a 78-ft (23.8m) Viking vessel in Norway, discovered in 1880, had been the biggest. Because of previous finds elsewhere, Brown knew there might be a cargo of grave goods and on 14 June, he found what he thought could be the burial chamber – a wooden hut-like structure, now disintegrated, which had been constructed in the centre of the ship. But by now the men from the British Museum and Cambridge University had got wind of his great find and, just days later, muscled in on it. Before he could explore further, he was sidelined and relegated to basic labouring. The professionals couldn't have a local man – a mere amateur – dabbling. Why, the fellow didn't even have a degree!

A team of archaeologists was brought in and it was one of them, Peggy Piggott, who, on 21 July, just two days after her arrival, found the first piece of gold. Then she found another. And before long they had uncovered a glittering haul of more than 250 items for which the expression "treasure trove" barely seems adequate. There were feasting vessels and drinking horns and elaborate jewellery, a lyre and a sceptre, a sword, stones from Asia and silverware from Byzantium and coins from France (which helped date the hoard).

Brown's find literally caused the history books to be rewritten. The ship and its contents were, it transpired, from the Dark Ages, and the discovery illuminated those four centuries between the departure of the Romans and the arrival of the Vikings, about which so little was known. The Anglo-Saxons who ruled over England's various kingdoms during this time had been thought a crude and backward people – primitive almost – but here were exquisitely made items of great beauty. This was a society that valued skill, craft and art, and that traded with Europe and beyond.

The film is understated but powerfully affecting, with tremendous performances from both Fiennes and Mulligan. During a recent Q&A event for the film, Fiennes explained how he first read the screenplay on a plane "and at the end of it I was just in tears. I can't quite tell you why, but it's something to do with the integrity of the people unearthing this thing which represents something to do with nationhood."

To read the complete article, see:
The buried ship found on an English estate (

David Sundman writes:

"The Netflix production is excellent, and also a very entertaining account of the Sutton Hoo dig in 1939, and numismatics play a part (as you know) to boot. I really enjoyed the Netflix production, which should win many awards, in my opinion."

David passed along a Wall Street Journal article about the film. -Editor

Every now and then a film comes along—not a great one, necessarily—that makes you deeply glad. It's how I feel about "The Dig." This modest and quirky feature, set in rural England immediately before World War II, dramatizes one of the most important archaeological finds of the 20th century, a pair of medieval cemeteries, one of them containing an Anglo-Saxon ship filled with magnificent artifacts. I'm glad it got made—not a sure thing at all in a relentlessly commercial market—and made with such intelligence and respect for the factual details of the discovery by people who obviously loved what they were doing; glad it's available to a wide audience on Netflix; and glad to have gained from it a heightened, and lengthened, sense of human history that the filmmakers convey in a style that's the antithesis of grandiose.

To read the complete article (subscription required), see:
‘The Dig' Review: Unearthing a Glittering Tale (

Sutton Hoo coins
Sutton Hoo coins

For more information, see:
Anglo-Saxon Treasures from the Sutton Hoo Ship Burial (
‘The Dig' Review: Carey Mulligan and Ralph Fiennes Crackle in Quiet Drama About the Stubbornness of History (

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Wayne Homren, Editor

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