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Having recently studied three jars from ancient Denmark and one cup from southern Sweden, researchers found traces of wine in one of the jars, which may originate as far back as 1100 BC.
The new study indicates that Old Norse people traded wine with central and southern Europeans long before the Iron Age, when most of the earliest traces of wine in the North started to appear.
The researchers believe that the jars once contained the Old Norse alcoholic beverage ’grog’, which contained berries, honey and barley. But the new finds suggest that wine was also added to the recipe.
”This is the first chemical proof that wine made from grapes from southern or central Europe was imported as early as 1100 BC,” the researchers from Pennsylvania University, USA, write in the study, which is published in the Danish Journal of Archaeology.
Peter Steen Henriksen, an archaeobotanist at the Natural Museum of Denmark, who did not take part in the new study, is slightly less convinced than the American researchers:
“It is definitely interesting if the wine came to the North this early on, and it is certainly possible, but I would like to see more evidence before I can draw any certain conclusions.”
He stresses that finds as old as these are very rare, and that we cannot therefore know for sure that they are representative of the time they come from.
Henriksen is not surprised to see traces of alcohol dating as far back as 1100 BC. He believes that Nordic people have been drinking alcohol ever since agriculture came to Scandinavia, which is believed to have been around 5000 BC.
”In fact, I believe we have been drinking for as long as we’ve had agriculture,” he says. ”One early source is the Roman senator Tacitus, who describes how Nordic people brewed a certain resemblance of wine made of grain and water.”
Later, around year 900 AD, an Arabian man ran into some Vikings in northern Russia, and he was not impressed with the Vikings’ relationship with alcohol.
“He describes how they drank and remained drunk all day,” says Henriksen.
The oldest jar was found buried next to a dead warrior in an oak coffin in the Danish town of Nandrup. The warrior was buried together with a sword, an axe and a jar containing honey and the remains of a dark liquid, which the US researchers believe may be ‘grog’.
Another jar, found southwest of Copenhagen, has been dated to 1100-500 BC. This one also contained a dark liquid. Chemical analyses have revealed that the liquid is wine brewed from grapes.
The third jar was buried together with a woman, who is believed to have been around 30 years old when she was buried. She was buried near the town of Jyllinge, and the find has been dated to 200 BC.
The cup was discovered on the Swedish island of Gotland and has been dated to the first century AD