Archaeologists in Scotland made a stunning find on the Orkney Island of Rousay earlier this year when they uncovered an ancient Viking drinking hall right on the coastline.
The sea-faring Vikings sailed to Scotland in the 9th century to raid and build settlements, bringing their Norse culture with them.
That’s why many drinking halls have been found around Orkney, including one such hall uncovered by a team from the University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute at Skaill Farmstead in Westness, Rousay.
The word “skaill” itself is a Norse word meaning “hall” so it’s not surprising that the team would unearth Viking artifacts and structures, but a drinking hall is the crown jewel of any such excavation.
According to the UHI Institute:
Substantial 1m wide stone walls were found 5.5m apart with internal features such as stone benches along either side. The building appears to be in excess of 13m long. The hall is oriented down the slope towards the sea. Finds have included steatite (soap stone from Shetland), pottery and a bone spindle whorl. A fragment of a Norse bone comb was also found.
In addition, the team found a major sign of human activity known as middens, which are basically old dumps containing animal bones and shells that tell us what people like the Vikings ate.
“We have recovered a millenia 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 Dr. Ingrid Mainland said.
In fact, it’s possible that the legendary Viking hero known as Earl Sigurd put away a few drinks at the hall himself.
Westness is mentioned in Orkneyinga saga as the home of Sigurd, a powerful chieftain, so it was always likely that a Norse settlement was located somewhere at Skaill. Earlier structures have been found below the present farm during previous seasons, and this season explored more of the Norse phases of the site.
“The exciting news this season is that we have now found the hall at Skaill, as the place name suggests,” project co-director Dan Lee told The Scotsman. “You never know, but perhaps Earl Sigurd himself sat on one of the stone benches inside the hall and drank a flagon of ale.”
In the Orkneyinga Saga, Earl Sigurd is associated with a magical Raven Banner made by his sorceress mother. She told her son the banner “will bring victory to the man it’s carried before, but death to the one who carries it.”
Perhaps you might be wondering what a full Viking hall may have looked like. After all, most of what we find are just ruins.
Well, you’re in luck, because it just so happens that a restoration has been reputably built on the site of a 12th century Viking drinking hall belonging to Sweyn Asleifsson, another Viking hero who settled in Orkney.
Scotland’s Orkney Islands are rich with Viking history and archaeological sites. So much so, that it is considered the “Egypt of the North”. But Viking sites can be found across Europe and in North America. Viking burial ships are being found every year, giving more insight into their burial customs and beliefs in the afterlife.
This new find of a drinking hall will only contribute to our knowledge of the Vikings and could serve as an incredible tourist site so that the public can enjoy it as well. Just not as much as the Vikings did.
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Featured Image: UHI Institute