1,100-Year-Old ‘Beer Hall’ For The Viking Elite Discovered In Scotland

Published August 9, 2019

The drinking hall, researchers believe, may have been used by the mighty Norse chief Earl Sigurd, who was a powerful figure during the 12th Century, and his high-ranking officers.

Viking Beer Hall

Archaeologists discovered this Viking drinking hall on the island of Orkney in Scotland.

The Vikings are not only known for their prowess in war but also their penchant for drinking — with a particular fondness for beer and mead. The latest archaeology discovery reinforces the latter notion as archaeologists have uncovered a massive Norse hall dating back to 1,100 years ago. Given the structure’s design and location, researchers believe that the Medieval stone structure may have been a drinking hall meant for the leisurely gatherings of the Viking elite.

According to the University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute website, a team of the school’s researchers, students and local residents have been excavating the site for years before the beer hall was discovered. The team was studying the site as a farming complex to learn more about the era’s dietary habits and its people’s farming and fishing practices.

As the team continued to dig on the site, they soon stumbled on mound walls extending from below the settlement that have been confirmed as part of a large Norse structure. Although only partially excavated, the stone walls appear to stretch more than three feet wide standing at about 18 feet from each other. Stone benches have been unearthed along both sides of the walls.

The Viking beer hall had been located on the coast and oriented straight down toward the sea. In addition to the hall’s stone benches, diggers have also come across some smaller items, such as pottery, a bone spindle whorl, and a steatite (a soapstone made from Shetland). They also found parts of a Norse bone comb.

The site at Skaill Farmstead in Westness, Rousay — known as the Egypt of the north — is believed to date back to the 10th century and may have been used by the chieftain Earl Sigurd who, according to the history of the islands known as Orkneyinga Saga, was a powerful figure during that era.

“You never know but perhaps Earl Sigurd himself sat on one of the stone benches inside the hall and drank a flagon of ale,” the excavation project’s co-director Dan Lee enthused. Skaill is a Norse word that translates to “hall” which is why researchers believe that it was a place to mingle among other high-ranking Viking officials. Orkney, the island where the site is located, was once a seat of power in the Norse empire.

The drinking hall structure also holds a resemblance to other Norse halls found in Orkney and other parts around Scotland.

Drone view of the partially excavated Viking beer hall.

The term “Norse” is typically used to describe medieval Scandinavian peoples, their culture, and language. Over the centuries, Norse men and women set sail from their homelands to venture to far off places, where they would settle into by raiding and colonizing the new area. The islands in Orkney are believed to have been settled upon during the 8th century though the start of the Viking Age is believed to have kicked off sometime around 793 AD.

The Norse ruled the northern coast of Scotland which includes the Northern Isles of Orkney and Shetland up until the 15th century, spreading their influence throughout the British Isles. The words of Old Norse were spoken on the islands and, to this day, remnants of their settlement can still be found around the archipelago with place names such as Twatt, Kirkwall, and, of course, Skaill.

Due to its rich history, the Skaill Farmstead site had recently been opened to the public for archaeological tours of the ongoing excavation site.

“The discovery of such complex buildings at Skaill, along with the rich artefact assemblages from the medieval and post-medieval periods, provides us with a tantalising opportunity to understand life in Westness over the last few hundred years,” co-director Dan Lee said of the site.

For those who were unable to make it to the islands to witness its historical structures in person, the team created a 3D model that history fans can find online.

After you’ve finished reading about the unearthing of this 1,100-year-old Viking beer hall, learn how brewers made beer out of 220-year-old yeast found in a shipwreck. Next, read about the 1,200-year-old Viking sword found in the mountains of Norway.

Natasha Ishak
A former staff writer for All That's Interesting, Natasha Ishak holds a Master's in journalism from Emerson College and her work has appeared in VICE, Insider, Vox, and Harvard's Nieman Lab.
Natasha Ishak
A former staff writer for All That's Interesting, Natasha Ishak holds a Master's in journalism from Emerson College and her work has appeared in VICE, Insider, Vox, and Harvard's Nieman Lab.