Digging Up Britain’s Buried Secrets. The Cat Jarman Story

Introduction to Cat Jarman

Cat Jarman is a British bioarchaeologist and field archaeologist who specializes in the Viking Age. She is currently a professor of archaeological science at the University of Bristol (source). Her research focuses on using scientific techniques like stable isotope analysis and ancient DNA to re-examine archaeological artifacts and human remains. This has allowed her to gain new insights into topics like Viking identity, migration patterns, and the role of women in Viking society.

Jarman rose to prominence in 2019 as the presenter of Digging for Britain, a BBC documentary series exploring major archaeological discoveries across Britain. She used her scientific expertise to shed new light on famous sites and artifacts spanning from the Stone Age to modern times. The series demonstrated Jarman’s knack for bringing archaeological science to life for mainstream audiences.

Overall, Cat Jarman is considered an innovator in using the latest technologies to reassess conventional archaeological theories. Her work has challenged long-held assumptions and revealed surprising insights about Britain’s past. As both a scientist and popularizer, Jarman has made important contributions to reshaping our understanding of history.

The Beginnings of Digging for Britain

Cat Jarman was inspired to start Digging for Britain after using chemical analysis techniques in her PhD research to study British migration patterns. She realized these methods could be applied more broadly to analyze archaeological artifacts and human remains and reveal new insights into Britain’s history (Source).

Jarman pioneered the use of strontium isotope analysis of teeth and bones at archaeological sites, which can trace where a person lived during childhood. She also utilized isotope analysis of artifacts to determine their origins. Combining these chemical detective techniques with archaeology and historical records allowed Jarman to reconstruct and map past population movements (Source).

In the first series of Digging for Britain in 2016, these methods enabled Jarman to uncover new evidence of migration patterns during the Roman conquest of Britain. Analysis of bodies from a Roman cemetery in Dorset provided insights into immigrants from diverse origins now settled in Britain. Examining Roman coins found across Britain also traced the movement of Roman troops.

Applying New Technology

Cat Jarman has distinguished herself by combining archaeology with chemistry and other scientific techniques. She utilizes cutting-edge methods like mass spectrometry and isotope analysis to uncover new insights from ancient artifacts and human remains. As Jarman explained in an interview, “By applying the latest analytical techniques to archaeological finds, we can squeeze extra levels of meaning from them that simply aren’t accessible to the naked eye” (https://petersfraserdunlop.com/clients/cat-jarman/).

One of the main techniques Jarman employs is isotope analysis, which looks at variations in chemical elements like strontium and oxygen to determine where a person or object originated geographically. This can show migration patterns and reveal if human remains buried in Britain actually were Scandinavian Vikings. Jarman can examine isotopes in teeth, bones, and other materials to reconstruct individual biographies and histories (https://www.simonandschuster.com/authors/Cat-Jarman/188847268).

Mass spectrometry is another methodology that detects and quantifies atoms based on their mass. Jarman has utilized it to analyze organic residues on ancient artifacts, determine diets and lifestyles, and extract ancient DNA for analysis. These advanced scientific approaches allow her to address novel research questions and gain insights that traditional archaeological methods alone could not provide.

By integrating archaeology with chemistry, biomedicine, and other disciplines, Jarman provides a powerful example of the benefits of an interdisciplinary approach. Her ability to apply state-of-the-art technology to ancient mysteries has enabled groundbreaking discoveries and rewritten conventional narratives about Britain’s past.

Key Discoveries in Roman Britain

In Digging for Britain, Jarman utilized advances in archaeological science to challenge traditional narratives about Roman Britain. Her research revealed that Roman settlement patterns were more complex than previously thought. Through isotope analysis of human remains, Jarman found evidence of large scale migration of people from places like Syria and North Africa to Britain during the Roman period (Cat Jarman). This suggests Britain may have been more ethnically diverse under Roman rule.

Jarman also examined Roman diet and health using bone chemistry. Her findings indicate Roman Britons continued eating traditional British fare like oats, while elites enjoyed exotic imports like figs. Study of skeletal remains showed common maladies like rickets and anemia, countering romanticized notions of Roman prosperity (Dr Cat Jarman). Overall, her bioarchaeological approaches provided nuanced perspectives on Roman culture, identity, class structure and quality of life.

Rethinking the Anglo-Saxons

New archeological discoveries have shed light on Anglo-Saxon origins and migration patterns. By studying burial remains, Jarman and her team traced Anglo-Saxons back to northern Germany rather than Denmark as previously thought. Isotopic analysis of teeth showed that people traveled from the continent to Britain across their lifetimes.1

Jarman’s work also challenges assumptions about violence between native Britons and invading Anglo-Saxons. Her excavations uncovered Britons living amongst Anglo-Saxons, indicating more cooperation than conflict. She believes in more gradual migration and integration rather than violent displacement.

Overall, Jarman’s discoveries provide new perspectives on the Anglo-Saxon era. Her scientific techniques interrogate long-held myths and rewrite commonly accepted narratives. By tracing precise origins and patterns of migration, she deepens understanding of this transformative period in British history.

Viking DNA

One of the most fascinating aspects of Cat Jarman’s work on Digging for Britain is her use of DNA analysis to track Viking ancestry in Britain. As a bioarchaeologist, Jarman is able to extract and study ancient DNA from skeletal remains to reveal the migratory history of the Vikings. Genetic data has provided remarkable insights into the degree of intermixing between Vikings and locals after the Norse invasions from the 9th century onwards.

Analysis of DNA from Skeleton 125, unearthed in Repton, showed Scandinavian ancestry along the paternal line. This provided concrete evidence that the infamous Viking Great Army wintered in Repton in 873 AD before conquering northern England (https://www.simonandschuster.com/authors/Cat-Jarman/188847268). Isotopic analysis also revealed the individual likely grew up in Sweden. Such techniques demonstrate the Vikings settled amongst the local population and left a genetic legacy.

One 2017 study found that up to 6% of those from northern England carry Norwegian Viking DNA. Other hotspots coincide with historical Viking strongholds like York and Orkney. This inflow of Viking genes altered the genetic makeup of Britain, particularly in areas of heavy Norse colonization (https://www.kellread.com/blog-avenue/review-river-kings-by-cat-jarman).

Genetic research has transformed academic views of the Viking era. Rather than rampaging warriors, the Vikings are now seen as settlers, traders, and family units who integrated with locals. Norse culture and language was not wiped out after the Norman conquest – pockets survived for centuries. Cat Jarman’s exciting work proves the Vikings still live on in the DNA of many Britons.

Other Notable Findings

In addition to her highly influential excavations from the Viking era, Cat Jarman has also made significant discoveries in other areas of British archaeology. For example, her work identifying the remains of King Richard III through DNA analysis helped resolve a longstanding historical mystery (https://petersfraserdunlop.com/clients/cat-jarman/). Using radiocarbon dating, Jarman dated ancient bog bodies found in northern England and determined they were sacrifices made during the Iron Age (https://www.instagram.com/catjarman/?hl=en).

By applying scientific techniques like isotope analysis and DNA sequencing, Jarman has deepened understanding of Britain’s past. Her pioneering research demonstrates the power of interdisciplinary approaches, combining archaeology with fields like genetics and forensic science. Whether studying Vikings, royalty, or ancient rituals, Jarman’s work expands knowledge and changes prevailing views of British history.

Criticism and Controversy

While Cat Jarman’s work highlights new possibilities in archaeology, some have criticized aspects of her approach. Some traditional archaeologists argue her reliance on scientific analysis ignores established theory and interpretation methods. As she frequently works with limited data, debates have emerged over how to reliably interpret small sample sizes. For example, her conclusions about Anglo-Saxon origins have been called “controversial” by those who favor traditional migration narratives.

Additionally, ethical concerns exist regarding studying ancient human remains. Jarman defends her work as respectfully furthering knowledge, but some believe the dead deserve undisturbed rest. These issues show archaeology continues to balance new techniques with time-tested wisdom. While debates remain, Jarman’s innovative approach has undeniably impacted views of Britain’s past.

Impact and Significance

Cat Jarman’s work has had a tremendous impact on archaeological knowledge and public interest in British history. Through her excavations and analysis, she has fundamentally changed our understanding of key eras and peoples in Britain’s past.

One of Jarman’s most groundbreaking discoveries was that the ancient Anglo-Saxons were genetically more similar to native Britons than previously thought. This challenged prevailing theories that the Anglo-Saxons completely replaced the native population after invading Britain. Her work showed a much more nuanced integration process.

Jarman’s isotope analysis of Viking remains also revealed that Viking raiding parties included women warriors, contradicting the assumption that only men took part in raids (Jarman). This provided new insights into Viking society and the role of women.

In addition to such discoveries, Jarman has brought archaeology to wide public attention through books, articles, and TV programs like Digging for Britain. She makes academic research accessible and exciting for mainstream audiences.

Thanks to Jarman and others, bioarchaeology and forensic science are being increasingly applied in British archaeology. This enables more advanced understanding of diet, migration, health, and ancestry from skeletal remains. Such technological developments paired with Jarman’s expertise mean the field is poised for yet more fascinating discoveries.


Throughout her career, Dr. Cat Jarman has demonstrated the power of re-examining the past through new scientific methods. Her innovative use of DNA analysis has overturned long-held assumptions about Anglo-Saxon migrations and Viking ancestry in Britain (Digging for Britain – Wikipedia). By applying forensic archaeology techniques, Jarman has also made new discoveries about Roman Britain, uncovering evidence that forces us to reconsider previous narratives.

The enduring importance of Jarman’s work is the revelation that we still have much to learn from the ancient past. Even sites and artifacts that have been studied for decades can reveal new secrets when examined with fresh eyes. Jarman has proven that bringing new technologies like DNA analysis into the field can lead to groundbreaking revisions of history.

As Jarman continues to innovate, her discoveries highlight the potential for many more exciting revelations about Britain’s ancient past through scientific archaeology. By keeping an open and inquisitive mind, we ensure that the distant past still has much wisdom left to impart. Jarman’s findings are a testament to the fact that re-examining history is not just an intellectual exercise, but key to gaining a richer view of who we are and where we came from.

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