The Dig tells the extraordinary story of the breakthrough made in Woodbridge, Suffolk, just before the outbreak of World War 2. Archaeologist Basil Brown uncovered two early Medieval cemeteries on the property of Edith Pretty that dated back 1,400 years. Inside one was an undisturbed ship burial with a wealth of Anglo-Saxon treasure, including a ceremonial helmet now held at the British Museum.
And, ahead of the film’s release, curator of Early Medieval Europe Collections at the museum, Dr Sue Brunning, spoke to Express.co.uk about the collection.
She said: “The most famous artefact is the helmet and that is the piece that is seen on the front of textbooks.
“It is basically an extraordinary iron helmet that has a very iconic face on the front of it with a moustache and black eyes.
“But there is also loads of gold and garnet work, they used a very intricate technique that involves the inlaying of small red gemstones.
“They are inlaid into these grid-like gold frames to create the glittering metalwork.”
Dr Brunning detailed how, thanks to the generosity of Mrs Pretty, they are now all kept at the museum.
She said: “In terms of the amount of artefacts, they are all held at the British Museum.
“Mrs Pretty made the decision in 1939 to donate them to the nation and that meant they came to us.
“There was an inquest held to determine who owned the assemblage as part of the treasure trove laws. They were found to belong to her and so she donated them.
“All of the main parts of the assemblage are on display.”
As Britain came under attack during World War 2, many of the pieces were moved to a London Underground station, including the helmet.
After the war finished, the museum was tasked with putting the artefacts back together, but some pieces had been mixed up.
Dr Brunning explained: “There are some pieces that are still in storage because they are too fragile or too fragmented.
“The helmet was discovered in hundreds of pieces. It was completely shattered.
“In the middle of the burial ship was a chamber with a roof, and at some point that had collapsed, shattering the helmet.”
Experts had to complete a 500-piece “jigsaw puzzle” to reconstruct the helmet.
Dr Brunning explained: “The conservator at the time did the best that he could and came up with his interpretation of the helmet.
“Later on it was realised that it did not look right. There were parts of the helmet that didn’t function.
“They went back to the drawing board and a new conservator came in the Sixties to re-do the helmet.
“He found a crucial piece that seemed to be missing and was able to resolve the problems they had beforehand.
“I think it is probably as close as we are going to get for the time being, so I’m happy with it.”
The new Netflix release is directed by Simon Stone and available to watch on the streaming platform now.
Ralph Fiennes takes on the role of Mr Brown – a self-taught archaeologist who has to fight to continue work on excavating the ship he found.
Oscar nominee Carey Mulligan, 35, plays 56-year-old Mrs Pretty, in a decision which has sparked claims of ageism.
Producers said the part was originally intended for Nicole Kidman, 53, and Mulligan said she was “aged up” for the role.
Behind the Woman, a Yorkshire-based collective championing women in mid-life, said: “It’s a crying shame to think of the wonderful actresses over 50 that could’ve played Mrs Pretty.
“As long as women in their 30s play women in their 50s it perpetuates our invisibility.”
Published at Wed, 03 Feb 2021 14:59:00 +0000