The Bone Chests: Unlocking the Secrets of the Anglo-Saxons

By Cat Jarman


‘A diligent historian and a superb writer’ THE TIMES

From bioarchaeologist and bestselling author of River Kings, a gripping new history of the making of England as a nation, told through six bone chests, stored for over a thousand years in Winchester Cathedral.

In December 1642, during the Civil War, Parliamentarian troops stormed the magnificent cathedral, intent on destruction. Reaching the presbytery, its beating heart, the soldiers searched out ten beautifully decorated wooden chests resting high up on the stone screens.

Those chests contained some of England’s most venerated, ancient remains: the bones of eight kings, including William Rufus and Cnut the Great – the only Scandinavian king to rule England and a North Sea empire; three bishops ; and a formidable queen, Emma of Normandy. These remains belong to the very people who witnessed and orchestrated the creation of the kingdom of Wessex in the seventh century, who lived through the creation of England as a unified country in response to the Viking threat, and who were part and parcel of the Norman conquest.

On that day, the soldiers smashed several chests to the ground, using the bones as missiles to shatter the cathedral’s stained glass windows. Afterwards, the clergy scrambled to collect the scattered remains.

In 2012, the six remaining chests were reopened. Using the latest scientific methods, a team of forensic archaeologists attempted to identify the contents: they discovered an elaborate jumble of bones, including the remains of two forgotten princes. In The Bone Chests, Cat Jarman builds on this evidence to untangle the stories of the people within. It is an extraordinary and sometimes tragic tale, and one of transformation. Why these bones? Why there? Can we ever really identify them? In a palimpsest narrative that runs through more than a millennium of British history, it tells the story of both the seekers and the sought, of those who protected the bones and those who spurned them; and of the methods used to investigate.

Author: Cat Jarman
Format: ebook
Release Date: 14 Sep 2023
Pages: None
ISBN: 978-0-00-844734-2
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.


‘Beguiling . . . I adored [River Kings] so felt like a young boy on Christmas morning when I first opened The Bone Chests . . . Jarman’s investigation has something of a Dan Brown quest to it . . . she’s a diligent historian and a superb writer’ -

Times, Book of the Week -

'This is the best kind of popular history, retelling the story of early medieval England with an equally good grasp of textual sources, archaeology and forensic analysis, and a love of Winchester’ -

Ronald Hutton -

‘Through their story, we can recapture the spirit of the Anglo-Saxon age and, as Jarman writes, learn about the ‘past lives of people who were a little bit like us, who lived, loved, and left an imprint on the generations that came after them’, and who in their vexing anonymity encourage us to find out more’ -

Literary Review -

‘An engaging account of England’s pre-Conquest monarchs, from famous figured such as Alfred the Great to long-forgotten kings Cynegils and Centwine’ -

i News -



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