Follow an epic story of the Viking Age that traces the historical trail of an ancient piece of jewelry found in a Viking grave in England to its origins thousands of miles east in India.
An acclaimed bioarchaeologist, Catrine Jarman has used cutting-edge forensic techniques to spark her investigation into the history of the 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 enlightening new visions of the roles of women and children in Viking culture.
Three years ago, a Carnelian bead came into her temporary possession. River Kings sees her trace the path of this ancient piece of jewelry 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, all the way to Britain.
Told as a riveting history of the Vikings and the methods we use to understand them, this is a major reassessment of the fierce, often-mythologized voyagers of the North—and of the global medieval world as we know it.
Bioarcheologist Jarman debuts with an eye-opening look at how ancient silk roads linked Vikings to the Far East. Framing the narrative around the journey one small carnelian bead likely made in Gujarat, India, to the gravesite in Derbyshire, England, where it was found, Jarman takes intriguing detours to examine various items associated with the Vikings' journeys eastward, including buried ships filled with human remains on the eastern coast of the Baltic Sea and carvings in the pillars of the Hagia Sofia in Constantinople (now Istanbul). She notes that carnelian beads started to appear in Scandinavia in the early ninth century, and explains what these and other objects found in gravesites in modern-day England, Hungary, and Turkey reveal about the movement of people between Scandinavia and the Byzantine Empire. She also draws attention to "exotic items," including a bronze Buddha statuette, found in archaeological sites in Scandinavia, and traces trade routes across the Baltic Sea and dozens of rivers stretching inland through Europe to argue that the people known as the Rus' by Islamic travelers and nomadic groups on the Eurasian Steppe were more than likely Vikings, or their descendants. Colorful storytelling and lucid explanations of archaeological science make this a vivid testament to the far reach of Scandinavian people and culture.