New gallery to open:
Sutton Hoo and Europe AD 300–1100

The Sir Paul and Lady Ruddock Gallery
Opens 27 March 2014
Room 41
Admission free

A new display of the British Museum’s unparalleled early medieval collections which include the famous Sutton Hoo treasure is scheduled to open in Room 41 in March 2014 made possible through a generous donation by Sir Paul and Lady Jill Ruddock. It is the first full refurbishment of the gallery since 1985, involving replacement of the flooring and roof, and renovation of the internal architecture.

Marking 75 years since their discovery, the gallery’s centrepiece will be the finds from the Sutton Hoo ship burial in Suffolk, one of the most spectacular and important discoveries in British archaeology. Excavated in 1939, on the eve of the Second World War, this grave inside a 27m-long ship may have commemorated an Anglo-Saxon king who died in the early AD 600s. It remains the richest intact burial to survive from Europe. Many of its incredible treasures, like the helmet, gold buckle and whetstone have become icons not only of the British Museum, but of the Early Medieval as a whole. The project coincides with the BP exhibition: Vikings: life and legend in the Sainsbury Exhibitions Gallery.

Room 41 tells the story of a formative period in Europe’s history. This time of great change witnessed the end of the Western Roman Empire, the evolution of the Byzantine Empire, migrations of people across the Continent and the emergence of Christianity and Islam as major religions. By the end of the period covered in the gallery, the precursors of many modern states had developed. Europe as we know it today was beginning to take shape.

The refurbished gallery gives an overview of the whole period, ranging across Europe and beyond – from the Atlantic Ocean to the Black Sea and from North Africa to Scandinavia. The unique chronological and geographical breadth of the British Museum’s Early Medieval collections makes such an approach possible.

As well as giving the Sutton Hoo ship burial greater prominence within the Museum, the repositioning also enables it to act as a gateway into the diverse cultures featured in the rest of the gallery. This material will be arranged around the perimeter of the room in cultural, geographical and chronological zones, comprising the Late Roman and Byzantine Empires, Celtic Britain and Ireland, migrating Germanic peoples, Northern and Eastern Europe, the Anglo-Saxons and the Vikings. Outstanding treasures on display include the Lycurgus Cup, the Projecta Casket, the Kells Crozier, Domagnano Treasure, Cuerdale Hoard and Fuller Brooch to name but a few. The design, object selection and interpretation will be completely refreshed with the aim of developing a more coherent narrative for the collections, and to display star objects more effectively than ever before. The material includes stunning and extraordinary objects from a period that was anything but the Dark Ages.

The new display will also feature material never before shown. These include Late Roman mosaics, a huge copper alloy necklace from the Baltic Sea region, and a gilded mount discovered by X-ray in a lump of organic material from a Viking woman’s grave, over a century after it was acquired.

With so many different peoples spread across vast distances over a long period of time, key themes running through the gallery’s new narrative will contextualise the displayed material, highlighting how the different parts of the collections relate to each other across time and space. These themes include the enduring legacy of the Roman Empire; the movement of people, objects and ideas fuelling significant interchanges between cultures, empires and kingdoms; the emergence and impact of Christianity and Islam; and the central role of archaeology in enhancing our understanding of Early Medieval Europe.

Sutton Hoo ship-burial helmet England, early 7th century AD.

Notes to editors

Admission free.
Opening hours 10.00-17.30 Saturday to Thursday, 10.00-20.30 Fridays.

An accompanying publication is available from December 2013 by British Museum Press: Masterpieces: Early Medieval Art , by Sonia Marzinzik. A beautiful volume exploring the history of Europe and the Mediterranean from the end of the Roman Empire to the twelfth century, as told through objects in the British Museum’s vast collection. Hardback, £25.

The BP exhibition
life and legend
6 March – 22 June 2014
The Sainsbury Exhibitions Gallery

In March 2014 the British Museum will open the Sainsbury Exhibitions Gallery with a major exhibition on the Vikings, supported by BP. The exhibition has been developed in collaboration with the National Museum of Denmark and the Berlin State Museum and focuses on the core period of the Viking Age from the late 8th century to the early 11th century. The extraordinary Viking expansion from the Scandinavian homelands during this era created a cultural network with contacts from the Caspian Sea to the North Atlantic, and from the Arctic Circle to the Mediterranean.

For the first time the Vikings will be viewed in a global context that will highlight the multi-faceted influences arising from their extensive cultural contacts. The exhibition will capitalise on new research and thousands of recent discoveries by both archaeologists and metal-detectorists, to set the developments of the Viking Age in context. These new finds have changed our understanding of the nature of Viking identity, magic and belief and the role of the warrior in Viking society. Above all, it was the maritime character of Viking society and their extraordinary shipbuilding skills that were key to their achievements. At the centre of the exhibition will be the remains of a 37-metre-long Viking longship, the longest ever found and never seen before in the UK.

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