Welcome to the British Museum in the Google Cultural Institute. Here is a selection of materials telling the story of the famous Anglo-Saxon ship burial at Sutton Hoo.
The area known as the Balkans covers much of Southeast Europe, including the former Yugoslavia, Bulgaria, Albania and northern Greece. In rural, often wealthy, communities jewellery was a crucial part of the lavish costumes worn as bridal outfits, for festive occasions, and dancing.
Balkan jewellery was used to mark marriage and other rites of passage, and to protect people from evil spirits. Both quantity and type of ornament indicated the wearer’s position in society. It was made professionally in a small number of centres, resulting in a similarity of forms and designs across the whole area.
Textiles, by contrast, were made locally and vary distinctively from village to village.
Much of the area was formerly governed from Istanbul as part of the Turkish Ottoman Empire. Different regions secured independence from it in a series of wars in the late 1800s and early 1900s. The jewellery and dress shown here were mostly produced in this period, during the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, and reflects the emerging nationalistic sentiment of the time.
This wool back apron would have been made by women from tough goat or sheep thread. The thread is dyed in several colours and woven in stripes. The apron is then pleated and the pleats tacked in. After baking in a warm oven the tacking is removed and the fabric bound up to retain the pleats. The apron is then sewn onto a waistband and long, thick, plaited tie cords are added.
The hem is embroidered on the inside with stylised flowers and edged with purple cotton crochet in a scalloped pattern. The apron would be tied on inside out and arranged to reveal the embroidery. The bottom two corners are pulled up and tucked under the cord at the back to create a butterfly shape. The hem embroidery then hangs down vertically. The skirt is finally firmly secured with a decorative belt.
This many-layered festive costume was made from locally-spun wool and linen.
A pleated skirt, low-slung apron, wide cummerbund and two waistcoats, rigid with embroidery and made of wool, are worn over a long linen chemise or shift dress with embroidered sleeves. Armlets (visible below the embroidered sleeves of the dress), and leggings (not shown) complete the outfit.
The dazzling zigzag patterns used on this belt were designed to ward off evil spirits.
The elaborate embroidery, protecting the hems and openings, is full of marital symbolism for a young bride.
While the motifs on the coat include the sun (right), the tree of life (left) and water pitchers (right, between the sun's rays), symbolising the ritual fetching of water as a new bride.
This headdress belongs to the costume shown beside it. Rows of Turkish coins form a huge crescent above the head, framed with bunches of wool yarn and two paper roses at each side. The bride’s hair is covered with a white silk scarf, indicating that she is married. A chain hangs under her chin.
This costume and most of the other Bulgarian objects shown in this exhibition were given by the Bulgarian Committee for Cultural Relations in 1971. This comprehensive group of 350 objects was the foundation for subsequent acquisitions. The gift contained ceramics, musical instruments and weaving equipment, as well as jewellery and textiles, from all regions of Bulgaria. Since then much has been acquired from collectors who lived or worked in the Balkans – as anthropologists, folk dancers or historians, keeping meticulous documentation.
Galičnik weddings have traditionally been held around St Peter’s Day (late June or early July). Due to the seasonal work habits of the men who were away from the village for months at a time, several weddings were often held at once. The bride would don her wedding clothes for the journey on horseback to her father-in-law’s house.
This clasp and coin-belt, gifts from the groom, were acquired with the costume. The belt jangles with Turkish coins of the late 1800s. The hooks bear the widespread double-headed eagle used in Europe and the Ottoman Empire.
The woman's costume traditionally has one hundred silver filigree buttons.
In this costume there are twenty on the jacket and forty on both the inner waistcoat and the longer outer coat. The five rows of buttons are visible in the image of the complete costume.
This silver alloy forehead ornament with amuletic discs and beads was attached with hooks to a tasselled bridal headscarf.
It was worn for fetching the first water for use in the bride’s new home, and later for special occasions.
The village of Galičnik is in a mountainous region close to Albania. Its isolation before roads were built meant that traditional customs survived much longer than elsewhere. These costumes were acquired in the 1970s from the family who had owned them for generations. The photograph shows these same costumes being worn by members of the family in the 1920s.
Worn throughout the Balkans as part of a
man’s festive costume, the breast chain was
hooked at the shoulder and secured on the
opposite side, or looped over the belt. This
one is hung with Bulgarian coins from 1925,
probably used once they no longer had any
In 'Black Lamb and Grey Falcon', Rebecca West, travelling in Macedonia in the 1930s, said of the Skopska Crna Gora region, where this chemise comes from: ‘They wear the most dignified and beautiful dresses of any of the Balkans, gowns of coarse linen embroidered with black wool in designs using the Christian symbols, which are at once abstract (being entirely unrepresentational) and charged with passionate feeling.’
Black and blue counted thread embroidery extends the whole length of each sleeve. Rebecca West was very struck by the use of blue in such garments, describing it as giving ‘the effect of an inner light burning in the heart of darkness’.
These long bands with stiffened tops were attached to the crown of the head and hung down to cover the plait at the back. The red cotton velvet band bears bird, crescent and sun motifs, executed in tiny metal coils and used in Muslim and Christian contexts.
To make the tiny metal coils, metal wire is wound round a thin rod to form a cylinder, which is then cut into pieces and the pieces sewn down, a technique known as purl work.
These slippers were owned by the great traveller and writer on Albania, Edith Durham (1863–1944), who toured the rough and then hardly visited Balkans from the early 1900s. She championed the cause of Albania and her vivid books, especially 'High Albania' (1909), remain standard texts today.
Durham records receiving these knitted wool slippers in 1912 as a gift from Gruda tribesmen in the mountains of North Albania, ‘in return for aid to burnt-out villages’ during the First Balkan War. Two pairs of socks would be worn by men and women to protect the sole of the foot inside thin hide sandals or opanke. Inside the house the sandals were removed and the decorative over-sock formed a slipper. Here, metalwrapped silk thread is plaited or twisted and then couched (sewn down).
This waistcoat is made of cotton velvet cloth decorated back and front with couched embroidery in gold- and silver coloured metal-wrapped thread, metal sequins and tiny red plastic beads. The printed cotton lining dates from the 1920s or 1930s. The flowers and leaves on the front flaps are done in purl work (see Albanian hair ornament).
This necklace with its multiple hanging chains ending in enameled crescents is characteristic of western Bulgaria. The tight neckband is made of plaited silver alloy wire and fastens at the front. Coloured glass stones are set into a cut-out metal backing. The chains are linked at the base to form a bib. The crescents with no chain at the sides are decorated with imitation enamel and are perhaps later additions.
These hammered silver alloy discs were
sewn to the top of a woman’s fez-like cap
to ward off the evil eye. They are a Muslim form, however, both are decorated with Christian
subjects: the Nativity, and St George and
the Dragon. St George’s Day in April was
celebrated throughout the Balkans. The
name tepeluk (singular) comes from the
Turkish tepé (hill) because the discs are
This silver alloy chain secures the inner
headscarf at each side, passing under the chin.
Formed of a stiff triple layer of leather, the belt is studded with rows of carnelians and pierced and riveted copper alloy plaques with a clasp at one side. They were worn from the wedding onwards. This belt was owned by Edith Durham, who bought it in Dubrovnik (then called Ragusa) in 1903, noting that ‘these belts formed part of a married woman’s wedding outfit. They were worn in Herzegovina, and in the Herzegovian side of Montenegro till about 25 or 30 years ago,’ that is until the 1870s.