As I write this, I'm waiting for a kiln full of pottery to cool enough that I can open it.
Opening a kiln, especially after the final (glaze) firing, is a bit like Forrest Gump's box of chocolates; you never know what you're gonna get. Even though I have about ten years of experience making pottery, it's still a crapshoot every single time, mostly because so many things can go wrong along the way. My first pottery teacher said never to get attached to a pot until it's cool, in your hands, after the final firing, and there's a lot of truth in that. Besides the built-in uncertainty of a complex, multi-step process that never quite works the same way twice, there's the added complication that I love to mess around with new techniques, especially new glaze combinations.
So I must admit that just about all of my failures have been my own damn fault.
All of which makes me wonder what those future archaeologists will think about my pile of smashed pottery.
My master's degree is in historical linguistics, with a focus on Scandinavia and Great Britain (and the interactions between them) -- so it was with great interest that I read Cat Jarman's book River Kings: A New History of Vikings from Scandinavia to the Silk Road.
Jarman, who is an archaeologist working for the University of Bristol and the Scandinavian Museum of Cultural History of the University of Oslo, is one of the world's experts on the Viking Age. She does a great job of de-mythologizing these wide-traveling raiders, explorers, and merchants, taking them out of the caricature depictions of guys with blond braids and horned helmets into the reality of a complex, dynamic culture that impacted lands and people from Labrador to China.
River Kings is a brilliantly-written analysis of an often-misunderstood group -- beginning with the fact that "Viking" isn't an ethnic designation, but an occupation -- and tracing artifacts they left behind traveling between their homeland in Sweden, Norway, and Denmark to Iceland, the Hebrides, Normandy, the Silk Road, and Russia. (In fact, the Rus -- the people who founded, and gave their name to, Russia -- were Scandinavian explorers who settled in what is now the Ukraine and western Russia, intermarrying with the Slavic population there and eventually forming a unique melded culture.)
If you are interested in the Vikings or in European history in general, you should put Jarman's book in your to-read list. It goes a long way toward replacing the legendary status of these fierce, sea-going people with a historically-accurate reality that is just as fascinating.
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