Title: River Kings
Author: Dr Cat Jarman
My Rating: 5 Star
Follow bioarchaeologist Cat Jarman – and the cutting-edge forensic techniques central to her research – as she uncovers epic stories of the Viking age and follows a small ‘Carnelian’ bead found in a Viking grave in Derbyshire to its origins thousands of miles to the east in Gujarat.
Dr Cat Jarman is a bioarchaeologist, specialising in forensic techniques to research the paths of Vikings who came to rest in British soil. By examining teeth that are now over one thousand years old, she can determine childhood diet, and thereby where a person was likely born. With radiocarbon dating, she can ascertain a death date down to the range of a few years. And her research offers new visions of the likely roles of women and children in Viking culture.
In 2017, a carnelian bead came into her temporary possession. River Kings sees her trace its path back to eighth-century Baghdad and India, discovering along the way that the Vikings’ route was far more varied than we might think, that with them came people from the Middle East, not just Scandinavia, and that the reason for this unexpected integration between the Eastern and Western worlds may well have been a slave trade running through the Silk Road, and all the way to Britain.
Told as a riveting story of the Vikings and the methods we use to understand them, this is a major reassessment of the fierce, often-mythologised voyagers of the north, and of the global medieval world as we know it.
River Kings was by far my favourite book of the year! It felt like I had one foot in an insightful and fascinating non-fiction book and the other foot in a fictional saga.
Instead of being a string of facts, which can often be the case with historical non-fiction, Jarman builds a compelling story around a small Carnelian bead. She takes you on a journey of discovery as she tries to work out who the bead belonged to, where it came from, and how it ended up in a Viking grave in Derbyshire. The book may begin in Derbyshire, but the story reaches as far as Russia, India, and Constantinople.
There is an abundance of information in this book about the Vikings and how they travelled, fought, and lived. The advances in technology have enabled archaeologists to revisit the artefacts and bones uncovered over the years and build a much stronger picture of the Viking age. Jarman explains these processes making it easy to follow for those of us without any knowledge of forensic techniques and archaeology.
Beautifully written. River Kings will delight any history fan.