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Viking 'Drinking Hall' Uncovered in Scotland

Viking 'Drinking Hall' Uncovered in Scotland

Archaeologists in the Orkney Islands, off the northeastern coast of Scotland, have uncovered the ruins of what they think is a Viking drinking hall used by elite warriors, possibly including a powerful 12th-century chieftain named Sigurd.

Orkney’s link to the Vikings can clearly be seen in local place names and architecture, as well as the DNA of those who live there. According to one genetic study, about 25 percent of islanders' DNA can be traced to the Norse settlers who first came to the islands in the late 8th century, at the dawn of the Viking Age. The islands remained part of Scandinavia until the 15th century, when King Christian I of Denmark handed them over to Scotland as part of a dowry for his daughter.

After working for years at the Skaill Farmstead site on the island of Rousay, a team of archaeologists and students from the University of the Highlands and Islands (UHI) unearthed the stone walls of a Viking-era building believed to date to between the 10th and 12th centuries.

Though the farm currently on the site dates to the 18th or 19th centuries, the name “Skaill,” which is a Norse word for “hall” suggests the site may have housed a Norse drinking hall. The partially uncovered building is around 13 meters (42 feet) long, with one-meter thick stone walls. The researchers also found stone benches along either side of the building, as well as pottery and fragments of a Norse bone comb.

It is suspected to have been a high-status site. According to The Orkneyinga Saga: The History of the Earls of Orkney, a historical narrative about the Norse conquest and rule of the islands written around 1200, the area, called Westness, was home to a powerful chieftain named Sigurd. The UHI team had long expected to find evidence of a Norse settlement underneath the present farm there.

Sigurd of Westness, the saga records, was a chieftain during the 12th-century reign of Earl Paul II. He was married to a woman named Ingibjorg (“the honorable”), and their two sons were also chieftains. As a close friend of Paul’s, Sigurd apparently hosted a feast that the earl attended at Westness just before he was kidnapped in 1136 by Sweyn Asleifsson, known as the “Ultimate Viking,” who wanted to clear the way for Paul’s rival, Rognvald II, to take power in Orkney.

Sigurd is a common name in the annals of Orkney’s Viking-era history. The Orkneyinga Saga states that the first earl of Orkney was Sigurd the Powerful, who had sailed aboard one of the ships led by Norse King Harald Fairhair in his conquest of Orkney, Shetland and the Western Isles (Hebrides) in the mid-9th century. Another Sigurd, Sigurd the Stout, famously fought under a banner marked with a raven, a symbol of the Norse god Odin. According to the Orkneyinga Saga, this Sigurd also converted to Christianity around 995, before dying in battle in 1014.

Whatever role the drinking hall on Rousay may have played in 12th-century Viking power struggles, archaeologists are excited about the potential revelations they will find among the many middens (piles of waste) at the site, which can tell them about historic dietary traditions, agricultural practices and more.

READ MORE: What We Know About Vikings and Slaves


Mead hall

Among the early Germanic peoples, a mead hall or feasting hall was initially simply a large building with a single room. From the fifth century to the Early Middle Ages such a building was the residence of a lord and his retainers. These structures were also where lords could formally receive visitors and where the community would gather to socialize, allowing lords to oversee the social activity of their subjects. [1] The mead hall was generally the great hall of the king.


1,100-Year-Old Viking 'Beer Hall' Discovered. But It Was Only for the Elites.

There was likely no shortage of ale and good cheer at a recently unearthed Viking drinking hall, discovered by archaeologists on the island of Rousay, Orkney, in northern Scotland.

The hall wasn't a short-lived establishment, either. Its doors seem to have been open from the 10th to the 12th centuries, likely serving high-status Vikings, the archaeologists said.

Now, all that's left of this once bustling alehouse are stones, a handful of artifacts — including a fragmented Norse bone comb, pottery and a bone spindle whorl — and very old trash heaps, known as middens.

Archaeologists discovered the beer hall this summer, after learning that walls extending from below a known settlement were actually part of a large, 43-foot-long (13 m) Norse building. These walls were about 3 feet (1 meter) wide and 18 feet (5.5 m) apart. Stone benches sat on the sides of the building, they noted.

The drinking hall was found at an archaeological hotspot at Skaill Farmstead, a place that has likely been inhabited by people for more than 1,000 years. That's why a team of archaeologists from the University of the Highlands and Islands archaeology institute, Rousay locals and students have been digging there for years they are often sifting through the middens to learn about old farming and fishing practices, as well as what sorts of foods were eaten by the people who lived there.

"We have recovered a millennia of middens, which will allow us an unparalleled opportunity to look at changing dietary traditions, farming and fishing practices from the Norse period up until the 19th century," project co-director Ingrid Mainland, an archaeologist at the University of the Highlands and Islands, said in a statement.

Excavations at the drinking hall are ongoing, but it's already showing similarities to other Norse halls found in Orkney, as well as other parts of Scotland. Moreover, the farmstead is part of the Westness on Rousay, a coastal stretch on the island. Westness is mentioned in the Orkneyinga saga as the home of Sigurd, a mighty chieftain, the archaeologists said.

Perhaps, Sigurd frequented the drinking hall, the archaeologists added. "You never know, but perhaps Earl Sigurd himself sat on one of the stone benches inside the hall and drank a flagon of ale!" project co-director Dan Lee, an archaeologist at the University of the Highlands and Islands, said in the statement.


Inscription Deciphered on Viking Treasure Reveals an Anglo-Saxon Surprise

A Viking inscription on a silver armband from the famed Galloway Hoard has been found to contain an Anglo-Saxon name. The implications of this are many and great.

In 2014 a gentleman out on his regular scouring of empty land came upon what turned out to be a treasure trove of ancient Viking jewelry and other objects. Experts said the collection was buried as far back as 1,100 years ago.

The collection, called the Galloway Viking Hoard, is comprised of more than 100 rings and other valuable artifacts, many inscribed with symbols that, until recently, mystified experts. National Geographic notes that the treasure included ornamental silks, gold jewelry, and silver brooches as well as silver Viking armbands inscribed with runes.

The Galloway Hoard was acquired by the National Museums Scotland (NMS) in 2017, which described it as “the richest collection of rare and unique Viking-age objects ever found in Britain or Ireland,” NMS notes that most treasure finds include just a few types of objects. This hoard is unique in that it contains a vast array of items including rock and crystal amulets, Anglo-Saxon disk brooches of a type never before found in Scotland, and two quatrefoil brooches that are “new” to archeologists.

Vikings came to the British Isles in the late eighth century. They were fierce warriors, looting wealthy monasteries and raiding local villages. Over the next few centuries, several Viking groups conquered areas of England, Scotland, Wales, and Ireland. They settled in communities and, over time, were either vanquished or assimilated into the Anglo-Saxon population.

Anglo-Saxon Migration in the 5th century. Image by Notuncurious CC by 3.0

Only recently was the Galloway collection examined by David Parsons of the University of Wales. Fox News reports that he has been able to interpret many of the Viking inscription and symbols inscribed on the armbands, and the information he has gleaned is giving experts new insights into the people who buried the items, their lineage, and their identities.

Parsons explained that runes are inscribed on five of the armbands which were found in a placement indicating they might identify who actually owned and buried that particular part of the two-part treasure. Some of the texts are difficult to decipher however, one of them is clearly a common Anglo-Saxon name, Eegbeorht, which translates as Egbert.

Who owned the #GallowayHoard?
Research into the Viking-age treasure, supported by @TheGlenmorangie, has uncovered what may be the name of 1 of its owners. Anglo-Saxon runes on a silver arm-ring have revealed the name Ecgbeorht or Egbert.
Find out more at https://t.co/a0L3eiGdAp pic.twitter.com/WUwEhHy7lZ

— National Museums Scotland (@NtlMuseumsScot) October 2, 2019

If the armband marks the treasure, the name and the particular script used indicates that the people who buried it were Anglo-Saxons themselves or somehow connected to Anglo-Saxon culture and familiar with their language and script at the time. They may have been settled in the area and have considered themselves integrated into the local culture.

Adrian Maldonado, a senior fellow with the NMS also believes this new information offers important clues into the area’s Viking past. He notes that the name Egbert was common among Anglo-Saxons and wonders what that may mean regarding the Viking period of Scotland’s history. It’s possible that some local people actually raided either on their own or with the Scandinavians. He also hopes that, as further study narrows the dates and names associated with this hoard, experts may be able to connect the treasures with specific historical figures.

BBC News reports that, in 2020, the Galloway treasures will go on display in Edinburgh and will travel to Kirkcudbright, Aberdeen, and Dundee before returning to their permanent home in Edinburgh.

This hoard is not the first Viking item or inscription found in Scotland that has excited historians and archaeologists, according to Fox News. In the past, Viking “boat graves” have been discovered, and once, on a remote island off the coast, a drinking hall was uncovered. Clearly the Vikings had a distinct and strong link to various regions of Scotland, and much information about that link remains unexplored.

To researchers like Maldonado and Parsons, that’s where the fun lies. The collection now owned by NMS is invaluable, not only in monetary terms, but in terms of historical richness yet to be revealed.


  • The newly discovered building is 13 metres long and has 1-metre-wide walls that were found 5.5m apart
  • Pottery and a fragment of a Norse bone comb was also found during the excavation
  • Researchers said the discovery "provides tantalising evidence for the earliest phases of habitation on this farm and settlement"

The large hall was uncovered during excavations at Skaill Farm in Westness, Rousay.

Archaeologists from the University of the Highlands and Islands said the hall "probably dates to the 10th to 12th centuries AD".

The name Skaill is a Norse word for "hall", and suggests the site could have been used for drinking and was high-status.

The 13-metre-long building has substantial 1-metre-wide walls that were found 5.5m apart, with internal features such as stone benches.

Pottery and a fragment of a Norse bone comb was also found during the excavation.

Supplied: University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute

Orkney was colonised by incomers from Scandinavia in the early Middle Ages, and its Viking heritage is evident through its place names and architecture.

Researchers said the discovery "provides tantalising evidence for the earliest phases of habitation on this farm and settlement mound, which may well have been inhabited for over 1,000 years".

"It provides another piece to the 5,000-year jigsaw along this archaeology-rich stretch of coast at Westness … the ɾgypt of the north'."

Project co-director Dan Lee said: "The exciting news this season is that we have now found the hall at Skaill, as the place name suggests."

"You never know, but perhaps Earl Sigurd himself sat on one of the stone benches inside the hall and drank a flagon of ale!"

Researchers also aim to find out more on past diets, farming and fishing practices.

University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute: Bobby Friel


'Millennia of middens'

The team investigating the site say "substantial" stone walls were found 5.5 metres apart, with internal features including stone benches along either side.

It is not fully uncovered but appears to be more than 13 metres long.

Finds have included soapstone from Shetland, pottery and a bone spindle whorl, while a fragment of a Norse bone comb was also unearthed.

Project co-director Dr Ingrid Mainland said "We have recovered a millennia of middens which will allow us an unparalleled opportunity to look at changing dietary traditions, farming and fishing practices from the Norse period up until the 19th Century."

The excavation is part of the Landscapes of Change - Archaeologies of the Rousay Clearances and Westness Estate project.

It aims to explore the farmstead at Skaill from the Norse period to its abandonment in the 19th Century.

The islands remained part of a Scandinavian kingdom until 1468 when they were pawned to the Scottish Crown by Christian I of Denmark.


Viking drinking hall discovered on remote Scottish island

Archaeologists digging on a popular island off the coast of Scotland have made a historical discovery that gives new clues about the Viking era.

The hall was found on the island of Rousay off Scotland. Source:Supplied

Archaeologists have discovered an ancient Viking drinking hall on a remote island in the Scottish Orkney archipelago.

The large Norse hall was uncovered at Westness on the island of Rousay. Dating to sometime between the 10th and 12th centuries, the hall was discovered below the more recent Skaill farmstead, according to the University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute.

The building appears to be more than 12 metres long. Its sturdy one-metre18

stone walls are about five metres apart. Items discovered during the excavation include soapstone from the Shetland Islands, pottery and a bone spindle whorl.

The name of the site offers a clue as to its history, according to archaeologists. “The name Skaill suggests the site was home to a Norse hall or drinking hall and was a high status site,” explains the UHI Archaeology Institute in a statement.

The excavation is part of the project Landscapes of Change — Archaeologies of the Rousay Clearances and Westness Estate.

The excavation of the hall was an exciting moment for the archaeologists. Source:Supplied

Although the site is only partly uncovered, archaeologists have already noticed parallels with Norse halls in other parts of Orkney and mainland Scotland.

Westness is also mentioned in a Viking saga as the home of the chieftain Sigurd.

“The exciting news this season is that we have now found the hall at Skaill as the place name suggests,” said project co-director Dan Lee in the statement. “You never know, but perhaps Earl Sigurd himself sat on one of the stone benches inside the hall and drank a flagon of ale!”

Other fascinating finds have been made on Rousay. In 2017, for example, experts were thrilled to discover a rare Roman coin on the island. The coin, which is believed to date from the mid-fourth century, was notable because the Romans did not occupy Orkney.

The Skaill Norse hall found on an island in Scotland. Source:Supplied

At its height, the Roman Empire extended as far as the Antonine Wall on the Scottish mainland, about 320 kilometres south of Rousay.

In another project, two Viking boat graves were recently uncovered in Sweden in what archaeologists are describing as a “sensational” discovery.

And in Scotland, a 900-year-old Viking chess piece that was bought for less than $10 in the 1960s was recently sold at auction for $924,000.

The extremely rare chess piece was bought for five British pounds ($6.30) in 1964 by an antique dealer in Edinburgh and then passed down through this family. For years, the Chessman was kept in a drawer at the home of the antiques dealer’s daughter.

— Fox News’ Bradford Betz and The Associated Press contributed to this article

This article originally appeared on Fox News and was reproduced with permission


Read More

The stones were first discovered in the 19th Century, when 46 of these carved monuments were found in the Govan Old Parish Church graveyard west of Glasgow city centre.

Today, they are considered hugely significant, a unique legacy of an ancient kingdom which had its powerbase centred on Govan.

A total of 31 of stones were taken into the church for safe keeping a collection which is now referred to as the ‘Govan Stones’.

Until this year, it was believed that many of the remaining stones had been lost or destroyed when a nearby building was accidentally demolished.

Following the young boy’s discovery, three more stones were quickly revealed. Further excavations are in the planning stages to recover any additional medieval gravestones which may have survived.

2. Scotland’s First Railway Track

In June, the 1722 Waggonway Heritage Group unearthed the remnants of Scotland’s first railway track.

The wooden rails from the original Tranent Cockenzie Waggonway - which predates traditional steam railways and has ties to the Jacobite Rebellion of 1715 - were found one metre below the surface of a modern-day footpath in East Lothian.

They were badly decayed but left imprints and cavities in the ground either side of an unexpected find - a cobbled horse track for the ponies which pulled the empty waggons up to the coal pits at Tranent.

The group will be conducting more extensive excavations in 2020 with events and viewings for members of the public.

3. ‘Viking Drinking Hall’

During the summer, a large Norse hall was discovered at Skaill Farmstead on the island of Rousay in Orkney.

A team of archaeologists from the University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute, along with residents and students, had been digging at the site for several years before uncovering the hall which probably dates from the 10th to 12th centuries AD.

The 13m-long building features wide stone walls and stone benches along either side and has parallels with other Norse halls excavated in Scotland.

The name Skaill, which is a Norse word for "hall", also suggests that the site was used by a high-status leader or community. Skaill is the area is mentioned in Orkneyinga saga as the home of a powerful chieftain.

It's long been believed that a Norse settlement was located somewhere at Skaill.

This discovery provided another piece to the 5,000-year jigsaw puzzle along this archaeology-rich stretch of coast.

4. Newly-discovered Pictish Stone

In August, a previously unknown carved Pictish stone was found at an early Christian church site in the Dingwall area of the Highlands.

The rare find, described by experts as being of “national importance”, was thought to have to been carved around 1,200 years ago, although it had lain on the ground since at least the 1700s when it was reused as a grave marker.

It is likely to have originally stood over two-metres high and is decorated with several mythical creatures, including two massive beasts, which experts described as being “unlike anything unlike anything found on any other Pictish stone".

It is one of only about 50 complete or near complete Pictish cross-slabs known in the world, and the first to be discovered on the Scottish mainland for many years.

The stone was found by a member of the North of Scotland Archaeological Society, who are now working with the Pictish Arts Society to raise money to clean, conserve and then display the stone in Dingwall Museum.

5. 1,400-Year-Old Pictish Skeleton

The preserved remains of a skeleton thought to be about 1,400 years old were discovered by archaeologists in September.

The discovery was made on the Black Isle in the Scottish Highlands as part of the Tarradale Through Time project on the last day of the excavation of a large Pictish cemetery.

Although a number Pictish cemeteries have been discovered in northern Scotland over the last 30 or 40 years, only a handful have been excavated and bodies very rarely survive due to the acidity of the soil.

If the teeth have survived, analysis of the enamel could say a lot about where the person grew up and what kind of diet they enjoyed.

Dr Jeff Sanders, Project Manager at Dig It!, hailed the year's "amazing" archaeological discoveries.

He said: “Archaeology is all about discovering stories – and new chapters are added to Scotland’s story every year. These are just some of the amazing finds that have been unearthed in 2019, with other exciting discoveries ranging from a 2,500-year-old seal tooth pendant in Orkney to Pictish hillforts in Aberdeenshire.

"We’re already looking forward to adding more pages in 2020.”

Amy Eastwood, Head of Grants at Historic Environment Scotland, added: "The fantastic archaeological discoveries made this year are key examples of how the historic environment helps our understanding of our past, and we’re pleased to support and promote the invaluable work being carried out across Scotland.”

Dig It! advertises events through the year, including dozens of excavations which are open to members of the public thanks to free tours, open days and training opportunities. The project is coordinated by the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland and primarily funded by Historic Environment Scotland.


There was likely no shortage of ale and good cheer at a recently unearthed Viking drinking hall, discovered by archaeologists on the island of Rousay, Orkney, in northern Scotland.

The site was explored for a number of years before the discovery

The hall wasn’t a short-lived establishment, either. Its doors seem to have been open from the 10th to the 12th centuries, likely serving high-status Vikings, the archaeologists said.

Now, all that’s left of this once bustling alehouse are stones, a handful of artefacts — including a fragmented Norse bone comb, pottery and a bone spindle whorl — and very old trash heaps, known as middens.

The Norse bone comb fragment from the excavation site

Archaeologists discovered the beer hall this summer, after learning that walls extending from below a known settlement were actually part of a large, 43-foot-long (13 m) Norse building.

These walls were about 3 feet (1 meter) wide and 18 feet (5.5 m) apart. Stone benches sat on the sides of the building, they noted.

Stone walls and stone benches were found during the excavation

The drinking hall was found at an archaeological hotspot at Skaill Farmstead, a place that has likely been inhabited by people for more than 1,000 years.

That’s why a team of archaeologists from the University of the Highlands and Islands archaeology institute, Rousay locals and students have been digging there for years they are often sifting through the middens to learn about old farming and fishing practices, as well as what sorts of foods were eaten by the people who lived there.

“We have recovered millennia of middens, which will allow us an unparalleled opportunity to look at changing dietary traditions, farming and fishing practices from the Norse period up until the 19th century,” project co-director Ingrid Mainland, an archaeologist at the University of the Highlands and Islands, said in a statement.

Excavations at the drinking hall are ongoing, but it’s already showing similarities to other Norse halls found in Orkney, as well as other parts of Scotland.

Moreover, the farmstead is part of the Westness on Rousay, a coastal stretch on the island. Westness is mentioned in the Orkneyinga saga as the home of Sigurd, a mighty chieftain, the archaeologists said.

Perhaps, Sigurd frequented the drinking hall, the archaeologists added.

“You never know, but perhaps Earl Sigurd himself sat on one of the stone benches inside the hall and drank a flagon of ale!” project co-director Dan Lee, an archaeologist at the University of the Highlands and Islands, said in the statement.


Mysterious 1,000-year-old Viking ship discovered on Norwegian island

Archaeologists in Norway have used radar technology to discover a 1,000-year-old buried Viking ship.

Researchers have spotted a 43-foot keel just beneath the topsoil of a burial mound on the island of Edøy in western Norway. The fore and aft sterns, however, appear to have been destroyed by plowing, and the ship is thought to have once been up 56 feet long.

The discovery was made by experts from the Norwegian Institute for Cultural Heritage Research (NIKU), using high-resolution georadar developed by the Ludwig Boltzmann Institute for Archaeological Prospection and Virtual Archaeology (LBI ArchPro).

In a statement, Knut Paasche, Ph.D., head of the department of digital archaeology at NIKU, explained that only three well-preserved Viking ship burials are known in Norway, all of which were excavated a long time ago. The ship will be of great historical significance, he added.

Georadar scanning at Edøy church. (NIKU)

The ship is from the Merovingian or Viking period and more than 1,000 years old, according to Paasche.

However, it is not yet known whether human remains and Viking artifacts are located within the buried ship, although they have been found at other ship burials.

“The survey [at Edøy] has been purely non-intrusive,” a spokesman for NIKU told Fox News. “Our equipment is getting better, so we can be pretty sure of what we have here. On top of that, the island itself is smack in the middle of Merovingian and Viking activity more than a thousand year[s] ago. The locals were really happy with the find - but not really surprised.”

The buried Viking ship at Edøy. (NIKU)

The spokesman added that it’s a little too early to predict future excavations at the site. “It will depend on the state of the ship. There will probably be a probe-excavation to see if there is anything left at all and the state of the soil.”

“Do we need to dig up everything?” the spokesman added. “We can do a lot more with non-intrusive instruments now that we know the exact location.”

Archaeologists have also spotted traces of settlements in their data, but say that it is too early to date them.

Viking-era discoveries have thrilled archaeologists across the Nordic countries, the Baltic and Scotland in recent years. A mysterious double Viking boat burial, for example, was recently discovered in Norway, intriguing experts.

Last month, archaeologists excavating a site at Vinjeroa in central Norway uncovered the boat grave of a woman who died in the second half of the 9th century. Shell-shaped gilded bronze brooches and a crucifix-shaped brooch fashioned from an Irish harness fitting were found in the grave, along with a pearl necklace, two pairs of scissors, part of a spindle and a cow’s skull, according to the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU).

In Sweden, a grave containing the skeleton of a Viking warrior, long thought to be male, was recently confirmed as female.

Last year, a Viking “Thor’s hammer” was discovered in Iceland and archaeologists in Norway used ground-penetrating radar technology to reveal an extremely rare Viking longship.

Also in 2018, an 8-year-old girl discovered a 1,500-year-old sword in a Swedish lake and an incredible trove of silver treasure linked to the era of a famous Viking king was discovered on an island in the Baltic Sea. Hundreds of 1,000-year-old silver coins, rings, pearls, and bracelets were found on the German island of Ruegen.

Two Viking boat graves were recently uncovered in Sweden in what archaeologists described as a “sensational” discovery.

In 2017, an incredibly well-preserved Viking sword was found by a reindeer hunter on a remote mountain in Southern Norway. In 2016, archaeologists in Trondheim, Norway, unearthed the church where Viking King Olaf Haraldsson was first enshrined as a saint.

Separately in 2016, a tiny Viking crucifix was found in Denmark. The wreck of a 12th-century ‘Viking-style’ ship discovered in a German port is also revealing its secrets thanks to high-tech 3D-scanning technology.

A 900-year-old Viking chess piece that was bought for less than $10 in the 1960s was recently sold at auction for $924,000.

The extremely rare chess piece was bought for 5 U.K. pounds ($6.30) in 1964 by an antique dealer in Edinburgh, Scotland, and then passed down through this family. For years, the Chessman was kept in a drawer at the home of the antiques dealer’s daughter.

Experts are also unlocking the secrets of a mysterious Viking treasure trove that was discovered in Scotland. The “Galloway Hoard” was found by a man using a metal detector in 2014. It was acquired by National Museums Scotland in 2017, which describes the trove as “the richest collection of rare and unique Viking-age objects ever found in Britain or Ireland.”

Fox News' Bradford Betz and The Associated Press contributed to this article. Follow James Rogers on Twitter @jamesjrogers


Watch the video: Vikings Mead Hall medieval and folk music (January 2022).