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


The Bone Chests: From the brilliant bioarchaeologist and bestselling author of River Kings, a gripping new history of the Anglo-Saxons told through six bone chests, stored for over a thousand years in Winchester Cathedral. A book that unlocks the secrets of the pre-Norman past.

In 1642, William Waller and his Parliamentarian army came to Winchester with destruction on their minds. They forced entry to the magnificent cathedral that had stood on the site for over 600 years and began to smash things.

Ten beautiful mortuary chests rested as they’d done since the 7th century in the cathedral’s holiest place. In search for treasure, the soldiers ripped open the lids and when all they found were bones they flung them at the great West Window, destroying the 14th-century stained glass with its sacred images of the Virgin Mary and St Peter. The desecration was total – blood, glass, bayonets, and bones all scattered underfoot. The chests housed the mortal remains of West Saxon kings, saints, and bishops; Queen Emma of Normandy, William Rufus, Harthacnut, Edmund Ironside, and Edward the Confessor. As the soldiers left, local people picked through the damage, gathering the glass and hiding the bone chests for safekeeping.

Six chests remain today – with a jumble of the original bones. In 2014 they were opened for the first time to anthropologists and archaeologists, photographed and catalogued so that the exact position of each individual item is a matter of record. Since then, cutting-edge science, including isotope analysis, carbon dating, and DNA analysis has revealed astonishing new insights. In Bone Chests, bestselling author of River Kings, Cat Jarman builds on evidence from these bones of the men and women who witnessed and orchestrated the creation of England, fuelled and fortified by the actions of invading and settling Vikings, to tell an unforgettable new account of this early period of history. This is Anglo-Saxon history in technicolor, with an important revisionist take on the role of women.

Editorial Review

“The Bone Chests” introduces a captivating premise that revolves around the intriguing discovery of ancient wooden chests within Winchester Cathedral, bearing pre-Norman Conquest names alongside enigmatic bones concealed within. This compelling narrative ignites curiosity as it delves into the captivating questions: Do these bones correspond to their labeled names? What hidden stories lie behind the individuals interred within these chests? Can modern archaeological methodologies illuminate the elusive truth?

Cat Jarman, acclaimed for her previous work on the Vikings in “River Kings,” delivers yet another engrossing literary endeavor with this book. Through her meticulous research and engaging storytelling, Jarman sheds light on a historical perspective often overlooked. Her narrative transcends the conventional belief of the Anglo-Saxons, Vikings, and Normans as entirely distinct groups. Instead, she unravels the complex web of centuries-long interactions, intermarriages, and overlapping claims to authority among these diverse communities. The result is a vivid portrayal of the multifaceted and cosmopolitan nature of the inhabitants of the British Isles during the first millennium.

In “The Bone Chests,” readers are not only treated to a riveting archaeological journey but also a profound exploration of the intricate tapestry of medieval history. Jarman’s ability to seamlessly blend scholarly insight with an accessible narrative style makes this book a worthy successor to her previous work, and a must-read for anyone interested in untangling the rich and interconnected history of England’s early inhabitants.

The Bone Chests by Cat Jarman
Genre: Non-Fiction
Age Range: Adult
Start Rating: 4.6 stars
Publication Date: 14th September 2023

Author: Cat Jarman

Cat Jarman

Cat Jarman

Cat Jarman is an accomplished archaeologist, author, and scholar who has dedicated her career to unraveling the mysteries of the past. With a particular focus on Viking history and burial sites, Jarman has become a leading authority in the field, renowned for her meticulous research and groundbreaking discoveries.

Driven by an insatiable curiosity, Jarman has excavated numerous Viking sites, unearthing artifacts and remains that provide invaluable insights into the lives and customs of these ancient seafarers. Her expertise in bioarchaeology, the study of human remains, has shed new light on topics such as diet, health, and social structures of Viking communities.

Beyond her contributions to academia, Jarman has also displayed a remarkable talent for communicating her findings to a broader audience. Through her engaging writing style and passion for storytelling, she bridges the gap between the academic and general readership, making complex historical concepts accessible and captivating.

Jarman’s book, ‘River Kings: A Times Book of the Year 2021,’ stands as a testament to her skills as both a researcher and author. In this critically acclaimed work, she expertly weaves together historical accounts, personal experiences, and scientific analysis to bring the enigmatic world of Viking burials to life. Her ability to humanize the past and draw readers into the stories of long-deceased individuals sets her apart as a gifted storyteller.

As a sought-after speaker and consultant, Jarman shares her knowledge and passion with audiences around the world. Her engaging presentations and expert commentary have made her a respected voice in the field of archaeology and a trusted authority on Viking history.

Cat Jarman’s unwavering dedication to her craft, her pioneering research, and her ability to captivate readers with her writing have solidified her reputation as a prominent figure in the world of archaeology. Her contributions to our understanding of the Viking era continue to shape our knowledge of this fascinating chapter in human history.

Other Book Title by Cat Jarman

River Kings: A Times Book of the Year 2021 by Cat Jarman
River Kings: A Times Book of the Year 2021 by Cat Jarman

River Kings

River Kings: 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.


Source: (Secrets of the Anglo-Saxon Bone Chests, 2023)


  • Cat Jarman | University of Oslo – (2021).

  • Philip Parker – Alas, Poor Eadwig! (2023, September). Literary Review.

  • (2019, May 16). New research on bones at Winchester Cathedral points to Anglo-Saxon queen –

  • Secrets of the Anglo-Saxon bone chests. (2023). IHeart.‌

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