Shoulder clasps from the ship-burial at Sutton Hoo


British Museum

British Museum
London, United Kingdom

These curved gold shoulder clasps are feats of astonishing craftsmanship. Each one is made in two halves, which are hinged and fastened by a strong pin. Their weight and the rows of loops on the back suggest that they were attached to a thick garment made of wool or padded linen. No trace of the garment survived in the grave.

The decoration on each half of the clasps is nearly identical. It comprises four panels containing an extraordinary combination of geometric stepped cell-work within borders of sinuous animal ornament, all immaculately executed in garnet cloisonné, chequerboard millefiori and intense opaque blue glass. In contrast, the four curved ends are filled with a bold design of two entwined boars made with some of the largest garnets known in Anglo-Saxon England. Their strong shoulders are picked out in large slabs of millefiori, their tusks in blue glass and their spiky crests and curly tails in deliberately small garnets. The boar, probably a symbol of ferocity, strength and courage, may be a reminder of the wearer’s qualities as a warrior. It is also used as a protective device by both men and women in early Anglo-Saxon England.

The model for these shoulder clasps is not known for certain, but they may be based on military prototypes, used to fasten armour and cuirasses in the Roman and Byzantine worlds.


  • Title: Shoulder clasps from the ship-burial at Sutton Hoo
  • Date Created: 550/650
  • Physical Dimensions: Length: 12.70cm (incl 4a); Width: 5.40cm; Length: 5.10cm (chain); Length: 5.70cm (pin); Weight: 95.96g (excluding 4a); Thickness: 0.50cm
  • External Link: British Museum collection online
  • Technique: cloisonn
  • Subject: mammal; animal
  • Registration number: 1939,1010.4
  • Place: Excavated/Findspot Sutton Hoo
  • Period/culture: Early Anglo-Saxon
  • Material: gold; garnet; glass
  • Copyright: Photo: © Trustees of the British Museum
  • Acquisition: Donated by Pretty, Edith M

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