From the brilliant bioarchaeologist and bestselling author of River Kings, a gripping new history of the Anglo-Saxons told through six bone chests, stored for over a thousand years in Winchester Cathedral. A book that unlocks the secrets of the pre-Norman past.
In 1642, William Waller and his Parliamentarian army came to Winchester with destruction on their minds. They forced entry to the magnificent cathedral that had stood on the site for over 600 years and began to smash things.
In the cathedral’s holiest place, ten beautiful mortuary chests rested as they’d done since the 7th century. In search for treasure, the soldiers ripped open the lids and when all they found were bones they flung them at the great West Window, destroying the 14th-century stained glass with its sacred images of the Virgin Mary and St Peter. The desecration was total – blood, glass, bayonets, bones all scattered underfoot. The chests housed the mortal remains of West Saxon kings, saints and bishops; of Queen Emma of Normandy, William Rufus, Harthacnut, Edmund Ironside and Edward the Confessor. As the soldiers left, local people picked through the damage, gathering the glass and hiding the bone chests for safekeeping.
Six chests remain today – with a jumble of the original bones. In 2014 they were opened for the first time to anthropologists and archaeologist, photographed and catalogued so that the exact position of each individual item is a matter of record. Since then, cutting edge science, including isotope analysis, carbon dating and DNA analysis has revealed astonishing new insights. In Bone Chests, bestselling author of River Kings, Cat Jarman builds on evidence from these bones of the men and women who witnessed and orchestrated the creation of England, fuelled and fortified by the actions of invading and settling Vikings, to tell an unforgettable new account of this early period of history. This is Anglo-Saxon history in technicolour, with an important revisionist take on the role of women.
Dr Cat Jarman is a bioarchaeologist and field archaeologist specialising in the Viking Age, Viking women, and Rapa Nui. She uses forensic techniques like isotope analysis, carbon dating, and DNA analysis on human remains to untangle the experiences of past people from broader historical narratives.Dr Jarman has contributed to numerous TV documentaries as both an on-screen expert and historical consultant, including programmes for the BBC, Channel 4, History, Discovery, and more.
Praise for River Kings: -
A SUNDAY TIMES BESTSELLER (September 2021) -
Waterstones Book of the Month (October 2021) -
‘A masterly history … River Kings is a mystery and an adventure, the tale of a quest that took Jarman from Repton to Scandinavia, across the Baltic Sea, over to Baghdad and finally to India. I was held captive … In addition to being a wonderful writer, Jarman is a skilled bioarchaeologist … River Kings is like a classical symphony, perfectly composed and exquisitely performed. Tiny trills of detail give way to pounding drums of drama’Gerard deGroot, Times -
”'Cat Jarman will transform the way you think about the Vikings” - Dan Snow
'A bead was discovered in a Viking warrior’s grave, and that discovery led Cat Jarman on an amazing journey which is described in this extraordinary story. That bead, in Cat Jarman’s hands, taught me more about the Vikings than a score of history books. River Kings is an astonishing and compelling triumph!'Bernard Cornwell -
”'Will cast a spell on any reader who enjoys their history well-written and clearly argued. Just as Antony Beevor’s Stalingrad reminded us that the eastern front of WW2 was of far greater consequence than its western theatre, so Jarman shows how the westward trading and slaving voyages of the Vikings were only half the story. The real source of Viking wealth lay far to the east.” - William Dalrymple, FT
‘A thrilling read … Illuminates Viking culture in an utterly intriguing new light’Charles Spencer -
‘An extraordinarily imaginative conjuring of the Viking world … This is not archaeology as dry stones and bones, but as the lived lives of the people of the past brought to life with verve, style and sympathetic imagination. Beautifully written … You’ll never see the Viking Age in the same way again’Michael Wood -