1,000-year-old Viking drinking hall uncovered in Scotland where Earl Sigurd may have enjoyed ale

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.

Excavation of the Viking drinking hall. Image via UHI Institute.

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.

Viking comb fragment found near the drinking hall site in Scotland. Image via UHI Institute.
A spindle found near the drinking hall site. Image via UHI Institute.

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.

Depiction of Earl Sigurd, a Viking hero who made his home in Orkney in one of the many Norse sagas. Image via Wikimedia.

“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.

Excavated portion of the Viking drinking hall. Image via UHI Institute.

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.

Langskaill House is built as a restoration on top of this site of a 12th century Viking drinking hall. Image via Wikimedia.

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.

We even know that immigrants were a part of Viking society thanks to DNA studies and that women were warriors as well.

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.

More from Archaeology Institute UHI below:

Featured Image: UHI Institute

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