New book by Dr Cat Jarman reveals history of the Vikings

Wiltshire archaeologist Dr Cat Jarman has today launched her first book, River Kings.

Cat, known for her expert insight into all things Viking, has appeared on numerous TV documentaries and taken part in archaeological research across the globe.

River Kings is the Trowbridge academic's first book and uncovers the epic stories of the Vikings through the journey of a small, but very important, carnelian bead.

The bead came into her temporary possession in 2017 after it was uncovered in a Viking Age mass grave in Derbyshire.

River Kings traces its path back to eighth-century Baghdad and India, discovering along the way that the Vikings’ route was far more varied than once was thought.

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.

Proving that the Vikings had travelled far further than we ever realised, River Kings has been described as a “riveting piece of historical detective work” and warmly praised by historians such as Dan Snow and Tom Holland.

“I wanted to write a book for a very long time,” explained Cat.

“I love public engagement and sharing what I do with the general public. There’s so much interest in the Vikings and I know so many people want to learn more, and I feel very lucky that I’ve been able to dedicate my life to this and experience the history first hand with digs.

“With River Kings, I wanted to find a way that I could essentially share what I’ve experienced with as many people as possible.

“To put tiny discoveries together and examine what they mean on a bigger scale was what I wanted to do really, and it was exciting.

“It has been liberating in many ways to write not just in the dry academic style. I’ve also been able to put myself into the writing and explain my own role.”

Cat hopes her excitement and enthusiasm can shine through in the book, and hopefully inspire others.

Cat, who has provided her expert insight in various TV documentaries, is also a senior advisor to the Museum of the Viking Age based in Oslo.

Like everyone, the pandemic has limited the way she works and changed the nature of public engagement.

While lockdown has put pay to traditional book tours or book signings, signed copies are still available and a virtual book launch is taking place today (February 18.)

For Cat, whose job typically takes her across the country and abroad to give talks, take part in digs or present research, it has been an abrupt, but sometimes welcome, change adapting to a virtual world.

In a recent virtual talk with Bristol University, which would have typically had a cap on physical attendees, it was attended by hundreds of people across the world.

She said: “People are listening to podcasts and engaging with academics in a very different way with talks and lectures not possible in the traditional sense.

“Book sales have done well and people seem to be reading more, and it’s also encouraged a lot more experts and academics to produce more material online which gives people more of a chance to engage and learn in a more accessible format.

“I’ve had several signings cancelled which was quite disappointing as that is part of the fun, but hopefully we can do more when the world opens up again.

“I’m itching to get back out and make some new discoveries after this, as the fieldwork element to my job has essentially ended.”

Cat added: “I hope River Kings will make people think slightly differently about the Viking and Viking Age, but also generally how we look at the past and learn from it.

“I wanted to tell a story that’s different to what you learned at school, different to the almost stereotypical pillaging and warfare.

“What would ordinary people like you and I have lived like? What would our lives have been like 1,000 years ago?

“There’s still a lot of assumed beliefs about what women’s roles were in the past but if you look at the scientific evidence there’s a lot of surprises there.”

“There’s still so much we can learn about the Vikings, but also there extremely elaborate network they were part of from England to India and everywhere between."

Source: G.A.H.