Skol! 1,100-year-old Viking beer hall unearthed in Scotland
If you’ve ever taken a stroll down to your local bar to knock back a pint or six after a long day at work, you probably recognize this relaxing traditional to be something so cathartic, so innately primal, that it couldn’t have solely been a modern creation.
This isn’t a concept that crept into our genes in the last 100 or so years, no. This tradition of slugging back suds dates back to farther than our minds could process. Especially minds with three to four IPAs clogging up their cognitive receptors.
And now, we have proof.
A new 1,100-year-old discovery in Scotland unearthed that high-ranking “elite” Vikings had their own “beer hall” of choice.
With the revelation of this historical site, we are just now beginning to learn about what archeologists have found and what clues from inside the old-time taproom might tell us about their daily living (and drinking) habits.
Fight or flights
In my younger, much more physically-equipped days, I made a living — if you could call whatever they slipped me under the table at the end of the night as “a living” — working as a bouncer in various bars, nightclubs, and comedy clubs up and down the east and west coasts.
The way I say that I realize it comes across sounding akin to Patrick Swayze’s character Dalton from the movie “Road House.” A tough-as-nails badass working my keep, being brought in to clean up the ills of whatever saloon needed my expertise.
But in actuality, I just was young and foolhardy and unable to keep down a job, which led me to move frequently to places where they didn’t bother to check references.
Handling drunkards was the name of the game. Although 90 percent of the customers were polite and just looking to have fun and take whatever the 2007 version of the “selfie” was (turning your boxy digital camera around and taking a picture, checking it, realizing you missed completely and then taking it over and over again until you got it right) with their friends.
But every so often, you’d meet a couple of chodes and that is where the trouble really began.
In those days, I, unfortunately, had to encounter my handful of unsavory groups, but nothing the likes of what researchers recently uncovered in Scotland!
The finding on Scotland’s Isle of Orkney has led the team of archaeologists in charge of the project to determine the site might’ve been the former home of a Norse-welcoming “beer hall,” dating back as far as the 12th century!
And that was only what they were able to determine by the smell!
Hut, hut, VIKE!
As we know from history as well as folklore, the Viking men loved their ships, their women, and their mead.
Did they call it “mead?” I know that’s what they call it at Medieval Times. And that place is canon!
So, the idea of a Viking beer hall creates some pretty powerful mental imagery. And this was no normal Viking beer hall.
This beer hall was for … The elites.
“The worst part of working in bars is hands down the patrons,” said Paul Palmeri, a bartender in Los Angeles. “Honestly, a Viking beer hall sounds pretty chill. I imagine it’d be more of a pitchers-and-wings crowd instead of the ‘can I get something fun, not too sweet, maybe a little lemony but make it red?’ requests which I’m currently dealing with.”
This sentiment was agreed with by others in the industry, with a catch.
“I would not want to bartend at a Viking beer hall, at least one for elites,” was how Seattle-based bartender Carmen Rose Becera took to the story. “I’m sure a normal Viking beer hall would be manageable, but ‘elites’ tend to lean on the self-entitled side. I prefer to work at a dive bar for a reason.”
This classy (for the era) watering hole is said to possibly have been the home base of Norse Chief Earl Sigurd and his high ranking shipmates when they’d return home from doing their pillaging.
“I think elite Viking hall assh**es would have steins of their enemies skulls behind the bar that you’d have to fill for them. And they would expect ‘cutsies’ in line,” Becera commentated; likely accurately.
Let’s do it like they do on the discovery channel
The discovery was made by a team of archaeologists from the University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology, who, along with Orkney area villagers and other students looking to fill their general ed requirements have been digging in and around this particular site for years.
The team had originally been digging with the purpose of doing extended research on the farm site that rested above where they found the 1,100-year-old tavern.
Their initial purpose was to learn about past diets, farming and fishing techniques via giant piles of uncovered waste, called “middens.”
But thankfully for them, they found something much more interesting because otherwise … My gosh. What a hellacious project.
So, what did you do at University this year, son?”
“I dug in thousand-year-old garbage to learn about fishing.”
“Well, that does it. I’m cutting you off financially.”
Make this next round extra hoppy
After getting their fill of digging through millennia-old waste, the team kept digging and sometime later came upon a pair of stone benches which led to them uncovering what is left of the entire hall.
The farmland, which they are playfully coining the “Egypt of the North,” is right along the coast and the farm’s name “Skail” actually translates into “hall,” giving more credibility to what they believed this newly found venue to be.
“You never know but perhaps Earl Sigurd himself sat on one of the stone benches inside the hall and drank a flagon of ale,” said Dan Lee, who co-directed the project.
The presumed hall points towards the sea, allowing for easy access for those who really needed to take a load off after busy weeks on the rough waters, their only respite coming when storming neighboring shores.
“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,” said research project co-director Dr. Ingrid Mainland, ironically writing that while stationed on an island.
So while unearthing the beer hall is pretty cool, they are more interested in what took place in the hall, outside of simply the pounding of brewskies.
The team of archeologists also say to have found more day-to-day items like parts of a comb (MADE OF FREAKIN’ BONE!), pottery and something called a bone spindle whorl, which after some quick Google searching, I’m pretty sure was just a 1,000-year-old fidget spinner.
But if the idea of spending an afternoon gallivanting with the elite in a 1,000 A.D. Viking beer hall sounds romantic to you, think again. These were men just coming off their mildew-stained boats where for the last stretch of time they were committing unspeakable acts and then coming home, clothes soaked by the waves and drenching their unkempt beards in the hoppy brew.
“At the end of the night bars smell horrible. Just a musky combination of regret, pheromones, peanut shells, and spilled beer,” Becera concluded. (One of the weirder parts of bartending) is arguing with dudes about prices or their I.D.’s. Really glad Vikings didn’t need to have I.D.’s or money. Pretty sure they got whatever they wanted.”
And for what they didn’t get free, just put that on Erik The Red’s tab.
A deeper dive: Related reading on the 101
- Another historical mystery uncovered.