On March 27 2014, the British Museum will open the Sir Paul and Lady Jill Ruddock Gallery to display the Anglo-Saxon treasures of the Sutton Hoo ship burial along with other extraordinary artefacts from across Europe in the period AD 300-1100.
This is the first redisplay for almost 30 years of some of the museum's key holdings – the masked Sutton Hoo helmet, dating to the early 600s, is one of its most recognisable artefacts – and the opening marks 75 years since the Sutton Hoo discoveries, which still constitute the richest intact ship burial yet uncovered.
But Room 41 will do much more than provide a showcase for Sutton Hoo. By taking a broader look at Europe at a fascinating point in history, it will tell the story of the crumbling Roman Empire and the birth of the mighty Byzantine Empire, as well as the appearance and gradual dominance of Christianity and Islam. Using artefacts from across Europe, the displays will cover territory from the Atlantic to the Black Sea, from North Africa to Scandinavia, and cultures from British and Irish Celts to Germanic migrants, from Anglo-Saxons to raiding Vikings.
Not everyone visits museums for a history lesson, no matter how well delivered, and this gallery promises also to satisfy those who only come to gawp: in addition to the Sutton Hoo treasures, key artefacts on display will include the intricate Lycurgus Cup, a late Roman glass vessel designed to change colour in different lights, and the Kells Crozier, an ancient yew staff that has been progressively decorated and redecorated from the ninth century onwards. Many objects – from mosaics to a Viking ornament – have never been displayed before; some have only just been rediscovered.
The gallery opening coincides with the Vikings: life and legend exhibition, the debut blockbuster show for the new Sainsbury Exhibitions Gallery.
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