Archeologists uncover possible Viking drinking hall on Scottish island
An overhead view of the trenches with Norse Hall on the left is shown in this photo. (Bobby Friel / @Takethehighview)
What is believed to be an early drinking hall where influential Vikings may have raised a flagon of ale has been unearthed on a Scottish island.
The large Norse building was discovered by a team of students and residents with the University of the Highlands and Islands Archeology Institute during a dig last week at Skaill Farmstead in Westness on the island of Rousay in the Orkney archipelago, which is located off the northeastern coast of Scotland.
The structure was excavated beneath a more recent farmstead at Skaill as part of a years-long archeological project looking into the history of a farm complex there.
“We have recovered a millenia of middens [waste heaps] 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 said in a press release Tuesday.
For their most recent discovery, the archeologists said they uncovered “substantial” one-metre wide stone walls that were 5.5 metres apart, as well as other internal features, such as stone benches situated along either side of the hall. The length of the building appears to be in excess of 13 metres long, according to the school.
They also found soap stone, pottery, a Norse bone comb, and a bone spindle whorl, which was used for making thread.
The team believes the drinking hall dates back to between the 10th and 12th centuries, around the time a powerful 12th century Viking chieftain named Earl Sigurd called Westness home, according to a historical narrative of the Norse conquest of the Orkney islands called the Orkneyinga Saga.
The mention of Westness in the Orkneyinga Saga has led historians to believe there was a Norse settlement somewhere near the farmstead at Skaill, which was abandoned in the 19th century. The name Skaill itself offers researchers a clue as to its function – Skaill is a Norse word for hall or drinking hall.
The team from the UHI Archeology Institute said it was likely a “high status” site for the Viking settlers.
“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 said in a press release Tuesday. “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 archeologists said the site will provide “tantalizing” evidence on the earliest days of habitation on the farm.
“It provides another piece to the 5,000-year jigsaw along this archeology rich stretch of coast at Westness on Rousay – the ‘Egypt of the north,’” the archeologists said.