One June day late in the eighth century, Norse seafarers arrived at the English island of Lindisfarne. They waged a savage attack on its unsuspecting abbey, and with this, the Age of the Vikings was born. These roving pillagers spent the next few hundred years raiding and trading a path across Northern and Western Europe.
Except, that’s not quite true. It’s just a convenient place to start the story — a story that has seen radical new discoveries over the past few years.
Dr Cat Jarman works on the cutting edge of bioarchaeology, using 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 specimen was likely born. With radiocarbon dating, she can ascertain a death date down to the range of a few years.
In 2012, a carnelian bead came into her temporary possession. River Kings sees her trace its path back to eighth-century Baghdad, 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 all 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.
River Kings is a major reassessment of the Vikings, and of the medieval world as we know it.