Posts Tagged ‘Scandinavia’


Copies of the Golden Horns of Gallehus 5th century BC: Two horns made of sheet gold, discovered in Gallehus, north of Møgeltønder in Southern Jutland, Denmark. Image: Vladimir Tkalčić (Flickr, used under a CC BY-NC-ND 3.0)

Topic: Nordic drinking history

A new book describes the fascinating history of drinking horns and their importance within Scandinavian culture where their roots stretch back into at least the Iron Age as several graves have been found to contain examples from this period.

A long history

During Classical Antiquity, it was the Thracians and Scythians who were known for their custom of drinking from actual horns but in Bronze Age Mycenaean Greece, although they had retained their shape the materials used were clay or metal. Their spread across Central Europe and into Scandanavia by the 5th century BC can be traced by their fittings found in various graves.

The Gallehus horns, discovered north of Møgeltønder in Southern Jutland, Denmark, were created from sheet gold. Designed to look like auroch horns, they were found in 1639 and in 1734 respectively at locations only 20 metres apart and date to the early 5th century BC. Sadly the originals were stolen and melted down in 1802.

Some drinking horns were even imported into Scandinavia from the Roman Empire and made from fragile glass. However, it is in the Viking Age that the drinking horn fills the sagas and mythology and are found throughout their world. Fortunately, decorative metal terminals and mounts recovered archaeologically show that the drinking horn was much more widespread than the small number of preserved horns would otherwise indicate.

Viking Age

Horn fragments of Viking Age drinking vessels are rarely preserved, but the ones that are show both cattle and goat favoured. However, the majority were from domestic cattle and held around half a litre.

Significantly larger auroch horn examples (as the size of the fittings attest), found at sites such as the Sutton Hoo burial would have been the exception.

Banned by the church

Suddenly in the 1100s the use of drinking horns stopped in Scandinavia, apparently banned by the church which saw them as symbolic of the older pagan culture. A hundred years later though the the practice resumed, and most of the medieval drinking horns come from 1300-1400 ‘s with many masterpieces decorated with gilt, silver and bronze.

Mythical and supernatural

A few of the horns in the Danish collection are up to 87 cm long and come from aurochs, which became extinct in the 1600s. During the Middle Ages it was believed that many of the horns were griffin claws, a mythical creature with a head and body of an eagle and the hindquarters of a lion.

Often the drinking horn is imbued with a supernatural aura and appears in dramatic tales and stories such as fairy women trying to entice men to drink deadly poison.

Three Kings

Unusually, the ‘Three Kings’ have a special connection to drinking horn cultural history, and many of them bear inscriptions of their names; Caspar, Melchior and Balthazar. Their special holy day is celebrated on the 6th January, when tradition says that they found the baby Jesus after following the star. One of their gifts is often regarded in Scandinavian countries to have been a drinking horn.

The new book is by Vivian Etting, a historian and curator at the National Museum who specializes in 1300s and 1400′s Nordic history and has written several books and numerous articles including in-depth studies regarding the medieval castles of Denmark.

Source: National Museum of Denmark

Original article:
past horizons
Jan3, 2014

For more information go to drinking culture


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Topic: Ancient brews
REHOBOTH BEACH, DELAWARE—Residues of pottery sherds from ancient Scandinavian settlements dating as far back as 1200 B.C. are the inspiration for Delaware-based brewey Dogfish Head’s latest ancient ale, Kvasir. Patrick McGovern, a bioarchaeolgist at the University of Pennsylvania Museum and frequent collaborator with Dogfish Head on these brews calls the drink a Nordic grog. The recipe for Kvasir, which is available in limited quantities now, involves yarrow, lingonberries, cranberries, bog myrtle, and birch syrup. Prior to Kvasir, Dogfish Head brewed Midas Touch, influenced by residues taken from 2,700-year-old pottery found in Turkey, and Chateau Jiahu, an ale that traces its history back to Neolithic China,

Original article:

Full article published in The Atlantic follows:

The Archaeology of Beer
Dogfish Head’s ancient, hybrid brews embody a past before ale and wine became separate categories.
The Archaeology of Beer

Dr. Pat McGovern, a biomolecular archeologist at the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, in Philadelphia, is standing before some large and inscrutable scientific equipment on the museum’s fifth floor as he explains his process to me. “We always start with infrared spectrometry,” he says. “That gives us an idea of what organic materials are preserved.” From there, it’s on to tandem liquid chromatography–mass spectrometry, sometimes coupled with ion cyclotron resonance, and solid-phase micro-extraction gas chromatography–mass spectrometry.

The end result? A beer recipe.

Starting with a few porous clay shards or tiny bits of resin-like residue from a bronze cup, McGovern is able to determine what some ancient Norseman or Etruscan or Shang dynast was drinking as he kicked back thousands of years ago. From a cardboard box, McGovern pulls out several plastic bags containing ancient pottery shards from China. It was from these that he identified the world’s oldest known fermented beverage, dating to about 7000 B.C.—a few centuries after humans began transitioning from hunter-gatherers to farmers. From another box, he pulls out shards and residues collected from four Scandinavian settlements, dating to between 1200 B.C. and 200 A.D. All of them contained traces of an essentially identical beverage, suggesting a drink—McGovern dubbed it “Nordic grog”—that was popular across Scandinavia for more than a millennium.

Details will appear in a forthcoming issue of the Danish Journal of Archaeology. But if your curiosity is more immediate and tends toward the gustatory, head to a nearby wine-and-beer store and request a bottle of the most recent Ancient Ale from Dogfish Head. The Delaware-based brewery launched its Ancient Ale Series in 1997, and in 1999 collaborated with McGovern to make Midas Touch, a brew that was inspired by the residue found on pottery fragments in a 2,700-year-old tomb in Turkey. Dogfish Head has since re-created six other defunct potables with McGovern, based on archeological finds in China, Honduras, Peru, Egypt, Italy, and now Scandinavia. Its re-creation of Nordic grog, Kvasir, is named after a mythical Norse hero who was born out of saliva and later killed by dwarfs. Dogfish Head made about 2,300 cases, available this winter in 27 states.

Dogfish Head’s Ancient Ales may vary in geography and taste, but they all have one thing in common: “Invariably, every one of these ancient beverages that we’ve brought back to life had at least two sources of sugar,” says the company’s founder and president, Sam Calagione, “be they honey or grapes or fruits or grains.”

One might wonder why early societies would use such a mash-up of flavors. But the more vexing question is: Why did they stop? Why did complex, deeply layered beverages get siloed into restrictive categories—mead from honey, wine from grapes, beer from grain—which then became increasingly homogenized over time? How did we get from Nordic grog to Bud Light?

Calagione heaps some of the blame on restrictions imposed by Bavarian rulers in 1516, which would later become known as the beer-purity law. “They mandated that beer could only be made with water, barley, and hops,” he says. “Humans had been brewing these exotic hybrid beers for 10,000 years, yet now roughly 99 percent of the beer commercially made around the world references a 500-year-old tradition. It’s a war the Germans have pretty much won.”

For his part, Penn’s McGovern sees a natural progression toward specialization, as beer makers started producing on a larger scale. “They get a successful product using a limited range of ingredients that people like and understand,” he says, “and then they flood the market with it.”

Kvasir is not what anyone would consider a streamlined product. It’s a hybrid of beer, fruit wine, and mead, flavored with (among other ingredients) yarrow, lingonberries, cranberries, bog myrtle, and birch syrup. “The ingredient I’m most excited about is the lingonberries,” Calagione says. I had thought Kvasir would have a boggy, primeval flavor, but instead it tasted quite modern: bright and tart, with an extremely dry finish.

Calagione won’t discuss Dogfish Head’s next Ancient Ale, other than to say, “It won’t even be defined as a beer. It’s even more experimental.”

But it’s safe to say it will be old. Very, very old.

By Wayne Curtis

Photo by Mike Basher

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