Sutton Hoo, near Woodbridge, is one of the most revealing insights into early 'British' life yet discovered. In the 1930s, the local landowner invited a renowned archaeologist to investigate the strange mounds within her estate. What they found there changed our understanding of the influences upon our rich (and multiethnic) history...
All right, I can't resist.
All of those cantankerous fools who today are campaigning for severe restrictions on immigration argue that they need to do what they do (be cantankerous fools) in order to preserve a 'British' (or more accurately - an 'English') way of life. To preserve the white Anglo-Saxon ethnicity which, they would argue, forms the basis of that quintessential Englishness. [Yes, I know - they would try to suggest that it's not that; they're not really closet racists. They merely want to protect the social infrastructure from excessive demand. Please, if you hear this argument, ask them where the NHS would be today without the 25% immigrant workforce: from surgeons to social workers to porters.]
But do they realise who those Anglo-Saxons were? Do they realise that even the Anglo-Saxons were not some divinely pure race? They should of course. Anthropology and genetic science tells us that we're all descended from some ancient species of biped from the African continent. However, we don't need to go that far back to find the ridiculousness of their argument. Sutton Hoo helps us to understand the complex international relations which created modern Britain.
Dear eldest daughter is completing a History Masters, and her preferred area of research is the history of disenfranchise - be that African slavery, or women's rights. It's interesting, although perhaps not surprising, that this domination of a subservient class has been a defining feature of human social development. When the Romans invaded the British Isles they discovered ancient Celtic tribes had already created a relatively sophisticated civilisation based upon linguistic, cultural and trade links with their 'homelands' somewhere between the Danube and the Spanish coast. Some researchers point to the similarity of linguistics amongst Indo-Europeans to place the origin of the Celtic language in modern-day Iran. Hoo knows?
It took about one hundred years for the Romans and Celts to integrate to the extent that many British tribes co-existed with the Roman Empire as independent nation-peoples. By A.D. 43 Emperor Claudius had endured just about enough of this integration, so he ordered his forces to invade Britain (again) and stamp out any lingering resistance to Roman rule - but even then the Caledonians escaped control by virtue of geography. By the way, those Roman forces were variously from Germany, modern day Libya, Iberia... you get the idea.
Yet all good things come to an end. By 410 A.D. the Romans had grown weary of financing the defence of a far-flung province; one which endured more than its fair share of barbarian invasions (err.. Germanic soldiers). And off they went. Or rather, the Empire left, but the genes didn't.
The influx of Germanic genetics continued in the 5th and 6th centuries with a mix of exploration, hired protection and military expeditions from the areas of Jute, the Frankish coast, and the lands of the Geat (southern Sweden). Collectively and rather imprecisely referred to as Saxons, the largest numbers appeared in eastern England by invitation, to help guard against (ironically) raids by the Picts and Caledonians from the north. This relatively bloodless integration created the 'Anglo-Saxon': a circular mix of Germanic tribes, ancient Britons and Romans. A long period of relative peace and prosperity also allowed for the development of laws of land and ownership - much of which survives today in the constitution and simple place names of English towns and villages, notwithstanding the Norman invasion of 1066. And all that.
The only 'theme' of this period was the spread of Christianity - not cultural nor ethnic identity. The use of a common language, Old English, and the new faith, cemented the Anglo-Saxon hegemony.
So - in trying to preserve some 'Anglo-Saxon' fantasy, those cantankerous fools are merely invoking an historical Christian population of extremely broad genetics. Is that what this is all about? Is that why they so detest Muslims? What about Sikhs? Buddhists? The Church of Scientology? It doesn't matter what colour or creed you are, as long as you're a Christian, you can settle in the United Kingdom and vote UKIP. Is that it?
What a load of nonsense. If history teaches us anything, it's that fresh blood - mixed genes - creates new thinking, tolerance, and equality for the disenfranchised. It's called human evolution: but I dare say many of those of whom I write don't hold with that either.
Okay. Rant over. For now.
Sutton Hoo. Despite historical and untraceable periods of grave-robbing, Basil Brown and later archaeological digs unearthed (yah) enough treasure to sketch a convincing picture of 6th and 7th Century England. Perhaps most remarkable of all, was the discovery of a tomb, complete with the remains of a large boat and belongings - including the famous helmet/mask - of a great king. The historians believe the remains to be those of Raedwald, ruler of the East Angles. But - in keeping with the theme above - evidence from the site overlooking the River Deben additionally suggests that communities were established in the region as early as 3000 B.C.
Besides taking in the standard exhibition hall, Sarah and I walked out to the site itself, looping around the burial mounds (more than half of which are still undisturbed).
Maybe it's just my imagination playing tricks, but the site retains a sense of majesty and magic. Even allowing for the adjacent pig farm.
We returned to our pretty little campsite tired but inspired. Time to learn more about the other key constituents of the British Isles - the Celts. The next morning, we packed up and headed north.
North's that way, you fools!