Viking Drinking Hall Discovered In Scotland May Have Been Norse Chieftain’s Local Pub

Overhead view of the trenches at Skaill farmstead on Rousay, Orkney. The Norse hall can be seen on the left. Credit: Bobby Friel @Takethehighview

Being a Viking warlord is a tough gig, so to avoid burnout it’s important to maintain a healthy work-life balance. Fortunately, the Norse empire was well equipped with drinking halls where chieftains could take their minds off murdering and pillaging with a few tankards of ale.

One such Viking boozer has just been excavated in the Orkney Islands, off the northeast coast of Scotland, and experts believe it may have been a favorite haunt of a legendary 12th-century leader named Sigurd.

Researchers from the University of the Highlands and Islands have spent the past few years examining a site named Skaill in Westness, on the island of Rousay. Given that Skaill is the old Norse word for ‘hall’, archaeologists have long suspected that it must have once housed a drinking hall used by high-status individuals.

Skaill farmstead looking towards St Mary's Kirk and Midhowe Broch. Credit: Bobby Friel @Takethehighview

 A historical narrative of the archipelago, called the Orkneyinga Saga, specifically mentions Westness as the home of Sigurd back in the 12th century, fuelling speculation that Skaill may have served as his local pub.

“The exciting news this season is that we have now found the hall at Skaill, as the place name suggests," Dan Lee, co-director of the excavation project, said in a statement. "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 Norse Hall at Skaill farmstead may have once hosted Earl Sigurd, the first Earl of Orkney, himself. UHI Archaeology Institute

The building, which was found beneath a modern-day farmstead, is roughly 13 meters (43 feet) long, and contains 1-meter (3 feet) thick stone walls, 5.5 meters (6 feet) apart.

Researchers believe the hall dates back to between the 10th and 12th centuries, coinciding with Sigurd’s rule.

Objects retrieved from the site include pottery and a comb made of bone, although the researchers are particularly interested in studying waste dumps called middens, in search of clues regarding Viking nutrition.

Skaill Norse bone comb fragment from elsewhere on the site. Credit UHI Archaeology Institute

Project co-director Ingrid Mainland explained that she and her team “have recovered a 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."

The Orkney Islands were brought into the Norse kingdom in the eighth century, and remained part of Scandinavia for around 700 years, before being handed over to Scotland by the king of Denmark.


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