A still from Netflix' The Dig. Basil Brown, played by Ralph Fiennes, looks at the burial ship.

Netflix’ The Dig and the story of Sutton Hoo

When we look at archaeology in film, we often find rather fantastical stories. There’s usually an ancient curse, heaps of gold, and the ‘archaeologists’ destroy more than they dig up. But with ‘The Dig’, Netflix has made a more subtle movie about real archaeological events: the excavation of the English Sutton Hoo site in 1939.

Sutton Hoo

Sutton Hoo is a site in the west of England with burial mounds from the 6th and 7th centuries AD. The most famous find from the site is a burial ship containing the possible remains of a king, based on the costly objects he was buried with. These findings challenged the way people thought of the Middle Ages at the time: not dark and muddy, but filled with treasure as well. Not only were there beautifully made objects at the site, some of them also came from far way, like the Byzantine empire. This suggested extensive trading networks.

The helmet from the ‘king’s grave’. Image: Paul Hudson (Wikimedia), CC 2.0

The story

‘The Dig’ tells the story in a pretty straightforward way. The burial mounds were located on the land of a rich widow, Edith Pretty, who hires self-taught archaeologist Basil Brown to excavate them. The movie has changed a few real life people and added some personal storylines, but the main events are all there. Many people have praised the movie for being very subtle but capturing the beauty of the excavations at the same time. Maybe it will inspire a new generation of more realistic but beautiful movies celebrating archaeology?

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Source: Artnet, Wikipedia