The Sutton Hoo Horn

Winner of the Arts and Sciences Casting category at Estrella War 2002.

Horn by Sir Bohemond le Sinistre, OL or Michael J. Fine
Sir Raymond, OL, OP or Raymond Moseley
Scrunchy Pope

Sutton Hoo horn made by BohemondOur Horn

 “In 1939 a discovery was made which has been described as ‘the greatest single find in the archeological annals of England’ and later as ‘one of the most generous single benefactions ever made to the British Museum by a single donor in his or her lifetime.’  This momentous find was the Sutton Hoo ship-burial, on the banks of the River Deben near Woodbridge, in Suffolk.  A 90-feet-long ship ahs been buried in the sand, a rich funeral treasure laid out amidships and a barrow raised over it.  The burial was that of a 7th century Anglo-Saxon King,” Aspects of Anglo-Saxon Archaeology, Sutton Hoo and other discoveries by Rupert Bruce-Mitford.

  Two pieces of the treasure were silver gilt drinking horns. 

Sutton Hoo horn on display at British MuseumOn display at the British Museum (Fig 1)

The differences 

            Size: The Sutton Hoo horns are of the extinct aurochs.  We used the Ankole, an African breed.   It is estimated by Grigson, The British Museum, that the horns were between 217mm and 314mm in circumference at the mouth and between 687mm and 900mm in length following the outer curve.   Our horn on display measures 530mm at the mouth and 920mm along the outer curve.  The volume difference is increased significantly! (See Fig 1)

Sutton Hoo horn close up on display at British MuseumOn display at the British Museum


Foils: Our horn is made up of entirely cast pieces where the original was a combination of cast and embossed foil pieces.  We have successfully made foil pieces and they are included in the display, however the foils are extremely fragile.  Over time we realized that they do not hold up to heavy use and travel.  Morning after observations show the foils take the most damage when the horn is used as intended.  To make the horn hold up to the use over time and maintain it’s beauty we decided to cast all the pieces.

Sutton Hoo horn made by BohemondOur Horn

            The zoomorphic rectangle plates, van dikes, and the three-zoomorphic knot work sections on the tip were originally silver gilt embossed foils.  The clips around the mouth and on the tip the three ring sections and the bird end were cast.   No rivets survive from the original, from that we know they were not silver, gold, or iron as these metals survived or left traces in the dig site.  Copper, or Bronze are the most likely choices based on other items in the dig.  There is no certainty to the composition of the rivets, just that holes for them are prevalent and the diameter is consistent.


close up of Sutton Hoo horn on display at British MuseumOn display at the British Museum

Sutton hoo horn made by bohemondOur Horn


Of the original horn, the van dikes at the tip were mostly unrecoverable, as well as the third foil and the tip.  These were all inferred in design by comparisons to other known finds and we copied what the experts at the British Museum filled in.

  On display at the British Museum


Our Horn

The Process:

            The masters were carved out in clay. The masters consisted of the clip, the rectangle zoomorphic plate, the large van dike the small van dike and the tip.

The rectangle zoomorphic plates and the van dikes were done flat. The clay pieces were then molded in silicone.  Wax was then shot into the moulds to make the wax masters.  These were then cleaned and molded again in silicone and once again shot with wax.  At this time the small van dike was molded to the tip piece for structural strength as it would make the tip more stable to being knocked around.  The wax pieces were then taken to a local professional caster and cast in bronze using the lost wax method.

            Each piece was then cleaned of all sprues and then shaped to fit the horn one at a time and fitted. Then each of the pieces was riveted on.  Traditional rivets crack the horn so we used shoe clinch nails that turn and “clinch” the surface.  No rivets survive from the original.

Lessons learned: cooling temperature changes the size of the casting.  As such the horn displayed as several smaller, cut down zoomorphic plates.  This due to the original pieces were 3 ¼ inches wide and the second batch came out 3 inches wide.  This put off the pattern to cause the need to cut plates down near the end of the project.  Otherwise they would have been even and matched in pattern.

Lessons learned: rivets.  Many style of wedge, pewter, lead, bronze and brass wedges, rivets, nails, and other items, each was found to crack the horn or cause splitting.  Cow horns are a form of hair and thus brittle.  The best solution was finally achieved with shoe makers brass clinch nails.  The nails when anviled bend over "clinching" the material.  So we pre drilled our holes and inserted the clinch nails into the hole through the bronze and horn and put the inside surface of the horn onto the anvil and just hit the nail gently.  We had the opportunity to meet Dr. Martin Carver while conducting a lecture tour here in New Mexico.  Dr. Carver supervised the second Sutton Hoo dig, and published the book Sutton Hoo, Burial Ground of Kings?, on his finds there.  We showed him our horn and our solutions about the rivets at that time.  Dr. Carver led us to believe he would take that "clever" clinch nail solution home to his associates.

Pictures and evidence taken from: SHSB: R.L.S. Bruce-Mitford, The Sutton Hoo Ship Burial, vol1 (1975), vol.II (1978), vol.III (1983) British Museum Press.

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