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A Scandinavian feasting hall

Viking feasting hall discovery resembles Beowulf hall of Heorot

It was a great wonder that the wine-hall withstood the bold fighters; that it fell not to the ground, the fair Earth-dwelling; but it was too firmly braced within and without with iron bands of skilled workmanship. There many a mead bench decked with gold bent away from the post, as I have heard, where the foe-men fought… A sound arose, passing strange. Dread fear came upon each of the North-Danes who heard the cry from the wall, the lament of God’s foe arise, the song of defeat; the hell-bound creature, crying out in his pain. He who was strongest in might among men held him too closely.

This passage from Beowulf describes the battle in Heorot, Hrothgar’s wine and feasting hall, between “the hell-bound creature” Grendel and the hero Beowulf.  According to the legend of Beowulf, the ‘great and splendid hall’, had been commissioned by Hroðgar so he could share with his warriors and his people the gifts God had given them. Craftsmen came from far and wide to work on the hall, and before long it was finished. Hrothgar named the hall Heorot, and there, as he had promised, he held feasts for his people, gave out gold rings and other gifts. Poets sang to the sound of the harp. The hall-roof was high over the heads of the feasters. But the jubilant noise from Heorot angered the beast Grendel, who entered the hall while the king and his warriors had been sleeping and succeeded in devouring many of them.

Vikings carrying the head of Grendel, the beast that attacked the feasting hall in Beowulf

Vikings carrying the head of Grendel, the beast that attacked the feasting hall in ‘Beowulf’ ( Wikimedia Commons )

Fast forward 1,000 years to the present day and take wonder in the findings of scholars versed in Norse archaeology, who’ve examined with ground-penetrating radar, a feasting hall estimated to date from the late Viking era.

In the December 8 issue of the journal Archeological Prospection , researchers Martin Rundkvist and Andreas Viberg write: “At Aska, it appears that we have found another such real-world correlate of the Beowulf poem's royal mead-hall Heorot, but in this case located in a smaller and less powerful polity. This all suggests a petty royal status for the owners of the Aska hall, who enjoyed connections with Scandinavia's top political elite.”

The hall measured about 50 meters (164 feet) long by 14 meters (46 feet) wide. It is in Aska hamlet in Hagebyhöga parish, Östergötland, Sweden. The building was supported by posts and had four entrances and double walls. There was a large fireplace in the center.

The researchers said their radar examination showed a clear and detailed ground plan of the feasting hall.

For years scholars had thought the site at Aska was a barrow or burial mound, but recent radar imaging showed instead a feast hall. Graves of a rich family had been previously excavated nearby.

Gamla Uppsala, where a feasting hall was recently excavated

Gamla Uppsala, where a feasting hall was recently excavated. ( Wikimedia Commons )

“Aska hamlet in Hagebyhöga parish, Östergötland (Sweden), is famous among Viking scholars for a rich female burial under a low cairn that was excavated in 1920,” they wrote.

PastHorizons quoted Rundkivst of Umeå University as saying: “ Parallels are known from several of the era’s elite sites, such as Fornsigtuna near Stockholm and Lejre near Roskilde. The closest similarities are however seen in a recently excavated feasting hall at Old Uppsala near Stockholm. Such close correspondences suggest intensive communication between the two sites.”

His colleague Andreas Viberg told PastHorizons: Our investigation demonstrates that non-invasive geophysical measurements can be powerful tools for studying similar building foundations elsewhere. They even allow scholars to estimate the date of a building without any expensive excavations .” Viberg is with the Archaeological Research Laboratory at Stockholm University and directed the fieldwork.

The Vikings were peoples of Scandinavia and Northern Europe who ranged across the coasts and islands of the North Atlantic to the west, down the coast to the Mediterranean Sea and up rivers into Russia. They were active from the 800s to 1100s AD.

Featured image: A Scandinavian feasting hall. Photo by Borg Vestvågøy ( Wikimedia Commons )

By Mark Miller

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