Gone Medieval. How Archaeologists Uncover the Middle Ages


Cat Jarman is a pioneering bioarchaeologist and field archaeologist who specializes in the Viking Age and forensic analysis of ancient artifacts. According to Cat Jarman | Official Publisher Page, Jarman earned her PhD and uses techniques like isotope analysis and microscopy to unlock secrets hidden in skeletal remains, fabrics, metals, and other materials from archaeological sites. She has participated in digs around the world, including Britain, Iceland, Greenland and Easter Island. As described on her LinkedIn profile, Jarman currently works at the Museum of Cultural History at the University of Oslo. Her unique skillset combining field archaeology and laboratory analysis has allowed her to debunk myths and uncover new insights into the medieval period.

About the Book Gone Medieval

Gone Medieval by Cat Jarman was published in 2021. The book explores medieval artifacts through the lens of forensic science and archaeology. Jarman, an archaeologist and bioarchaeologist, uses modern scientific techniques to examine objects like medieval art, manuscripts, and skeletal remains (HistoryHit).

The book debunks common myths about the Middle Ages by uncovering insights about medieval people’s lives, health, and culture. Some key topics explored in Gone Medieval include medicine, religious practices, diet, and women’s lives during medieval times (HistoryHit). Jarman aims to bring alive the medieval world through tangible objects that have survived through the centuries.

Using Forensic Science on Ancient Artifacts

In Gone Medieval, Dr. Cat Jarman demonstrates how forensic science techniques can be applied to the study of medieval artifacts. As an archaeologist and scientist, Jarman uses a multidisciplinary approach that combines archaeology, history, and forensic science to uncover new insights about medieval objects (https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/30929674/).

Some of the key forensic techniques Jarman employs include radiocarbon dating, isotope analysis, microscopy, and protein analysis. By subjecting artifacts to radiocarbon dating, Jarman can determine the precise age of objects made from organic materials. Isotope analysis of skeletons and teeth provides clues about an individual’s diet and place of origin. Using microscopes and spectroscopy, Jarman analyzes the materials artifacts are made from. And through protein analysis, she can identify the species that materials like leather and parchment were sourced from.

Applying these scientific techniques allows Jarman to test long-held assumptions about medieval artifacts. Her interdisciplinary approach bridges archaeology and forensic science to reveal new facts about the origins, construction methods, and use of objects from the medieval period.

Notable Case Studies in the Book

Jarman investigates several fascinating artifacts and legends in Gone Medieval using modern forensic analysis. Some highlights include:

The Isle of Wight Crucifix – Jarman examines an intriguing wooden crucifix discovered buried on the Isle of Wight using radiocarbon dating and x-ray analysis. She pieces together clues about its origins and purpose (Gone Medieval).

The Faddan More Psalter – This ancient Christian psalter uncovered in an Irish bog is scrutinized by Jarman. She inspects it for clues into who owned it and how it ended up buried (Medieval Trans Saints & Sex Workers – Gone Medieval).

Marco Polo in China – Jarman investigates whether Marco Polo’s famous 13th century travels to China were fact or fiction. She pores over obscure texts and artifacts for proof (Marco Polo | Gone Medieval – YouTube).

Through in-depth studies like these, Jarman proves the immense value of applying forensic science to medieval artifacts and stories.

The Isle of Wight Crucifix Study

One of the most fascinating case studies in Gone Medieval focuses on a wooden crucifix that was discovered in an ancient church on the Isle of Wight off the south coast of England. Using a combination of radiocarbon dating and dendrochronology (the study of tree rings), Jarman was able to accurately date the crucifix to around 1098-1130 AD.

However, there were some puzzling inconsistencies with the artifact. The style of the carving and details on the crucifix suggested it was produced in 1200-1240 AD, more than a century after the wood itself was dated to. In addition, the crucifix featured some unusual iconography and motifs that did not match other artwork from the same medieval period.

By thoroughly examining the materials and techniques used to produce the crucifix, Jarman concluded that while the wood itself dated to around 1100 AD, the carving was likely added later, around 1200 AD, meaning the original artifact was modified at a later date. This discovery demonstrated the importance of using scientific analysis in tandem with art historical research to fully understand medieval artifacts.

The crucifix study showcased Jarman’s innovative approach and how bringing together diverse disciplines can solve long-standing mysteries surrounding medieval objects. Her ability to uncover new information about an artifact previously believed to be well understood highlighted the potential for more discoveries when applying forensic science to the study of medieval artwork and relics.

Debunking Medieval Myths

In Gone Medieval, Dr. Cat Jarman uses forensic science techniques to debunk many common myths about medieval Europe. Some of the notable myths the book helps dispel include:

The myth that medieval people believed the earth was flat (History). Jarman provides evidence that most educated Europeans during the Middle Ages knew the earth was spherical.

The myth that the medieval period was devoid of scientific advancement and discovery (Gone Medieval Podcast). Jarman highlights major scientific achievements in medieval times like the invention of spectacles and mechanical clocks.

The myth that medieval people rarely bathed or cared about hygiene (Quora). Her analysis of combs, tweezers, and toothpicks found at archaeological sites demonstrates medieval people did practice personal grooming.

Through meticulous examination of medieval artifacts, Jarman provides a more accurate picture of medieval life that challenges enduring misconceptions.

Critical Reception

Gone Medieval has received widespread acclaim from critics and historians alike.

The book has been praised for its innovative use of modern forensic science techniques to shed new light on medieval artifacts and debunk enduring myths about the medieval period. Writing for The Guardian, historian Bettany Hughes called it “an exhilarating revelation of the medieval world” and said Jarman’s approach represents “a true paradigm shift” (source).

Reviewing the book in The Times Literary Supplement, medieval scholar Carolyne Larrington highlighted Jarman’s “flair for clear scientific explanation” and said the book serves as an important reminder that “the Middle Ages can still surprise us.” She concluded that Jarman has written “a witty, absorbing study” (source).

Many reviewers have praised Jarman’s engaging writing style and ability to make complex technical analysis accessible and entertaining for general readers. Her background as an academic and public engagement has allowed her to connect with both expert and popular audiences.

While a few more traditionally-minded medieval scholars have been skeptical of Jarman’s myth-busting approach, most reviewers agree that she provides convincing evidence to overturn outdated assumptions about medieval artifacts and culture.

Impact and Significance

Dr. Cat Jarman’s book Gone Medieval has had a major impact in the field of archaeology and the public understanding of the medieval period. By using forensic science techniques on medieval artifacts, Jarman has provided groundbreaking new insights into history (Source 1).

The book and Jarman’s related podcast series Gone Medieval (Source 2) have received widespread acclaim for making medieval history accessible and engaging for general audiences. Jarman’s innovative approach has sparked conversations about re-examining long-held assumptions about the Middle Ages.

In particular, Jarman’s high-profile case study on the Isle of Wight crucifix helped debunk myths about the “Dark Ages” being culturally backwards. Her examination of medieval objects provides tangible proof of the remarkable artistry and sophistication of the era. Overall, Jarman’s pioneering work has profoundly shaped our understanding of medieval culture and demonstrated the value of applying forensic techniques to artifact analysis.

Jarman’s Other Notable Works

In addition to Gone Medieval, Cat Jarman has authored several other acclaimed books that blend archaeology, history, and science:

River Kings uses chemical analysis of Viking-age artifacts to reveal the vast trade networks and wealth of Viking chieftains in northern Europe. Published in 2021, the book has been praised for its innovative methodology and insights into Viking culture.

Jarman’s first book, The Bone Chests: Unlocking the Secrets of the Anglo-Saxons (2019), examines Anglo-Saxon artifacts to uncover new details about early medieval England. The Times Literary Supplement called it “an Indiana Jones-style archaeological adventure.”

She has contributed to several museum exhibitions, including hosting the 2021 BBC documentary The Vikings: Rediscovering the Legend. Jarman also frequently gives public lectures and media appearances to make archaeology accessible to wide audiences.

Her books and projects highlight Jarman’s talent for using scientific analysis to uncover captivating new insights from ancient artifacts. She breathes life into topics from long ago, satisfying readers’ curiosity about the human stories behind the archaeological evidence.


In summary, Dr. Cat Jarman’s book Gone Medieval provides a fascinating look into how modern forensic science can be applied to artifacts and remains from the medieval period to uncover new insights. Through notable case studies like the Isle of Wight crucifix, Jarman demonstrates the power of techniques like radiocarbon dating, isotope analysis, and microscopy to debunk myths and revise our understanding of medieval people and culture.

Gone Medieval represents a substantial contribution to the field of medieval studies, proving that bioarchaeology and forensics have much to offer historians and archaeologists seeking to learn more about our past. Jarman’s careful analysis and engaging storytelling bring the mysteries of the Middle Ages to life. Her book leaves readers with a renewed appreciation for the ingenuity and diversity of medieval society.

Beyond Gone Medieval, Jarman has cemented herself as a leading public scholar and science communicator on the medieval period and archaeology. Through her books, academic research, media appearances, and podcast, she aims to reignite interest in this often misunderstood era of history. For anyone fascinated by the Middle Ages and the hidden stories objects can tell, Dr. Cat Jarman is sure to enlighten and inspire.

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