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Participants at the Slav and Viking Festival in Wolin, Poland tend to be sticklers for authenticity. Many adorn their bodies with tattoos, and some adopt a Viking diet, slaughtering and roasting game.  PHOTOGRAPH BY DAVID GUTTENFELDER, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC

Participants at the Slav and Viking Festival in Wolin, Poland tend to be sticklers for authenticity. Many adorn their bodies with tattoos, and some adopt a Viking diet, slaughtering and roasting game.
PHOTOGRAPH BY DAVID GUTTENFELDER, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC

Nationalgeographic.com

Historical interpreters bring a reconstructed longhouse to life at the Ribe Viking Center in Denmark. Meals were cooked over an open fire on a hearth, and Viking fare included salted herring, barley porridge, and boiled sheep heads.  PHOTOGRAPH BY DAVID GUTTENFELDER, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC

Historical interpreters bring a reconstructed longhouse to life at the Ribe Viking Center in Denmark. Meals were cooked over an open fire on a hearth, and Viking fare included salted herring, barley porridge, and boiled sheep heads.
PHOTOGRAPH BY DAVID GUTTENFELDER, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC

By Catherine Zuckerman

All that marauding must have left the Vikings famished. It’s easy to envision a group of them around a table, ravenous after a long day of ransacking, devouring giant hunks of meat and hoisting horns-full of ale.
But that wouldn’t quite be fair, or accurate.
As tempting as it is to assume that Viking meals were crude and carnivorous, the truth is that everyday Viking fare included a range of foods that a health-minded modern person would applaud.
Picture, for example, that burly, bearded warrior throwing down his sword to enjoy a tart treat similar to yogurt, or refuel with a tangle of fresh greens.
“The Vikings had a wide range of food and wild herbs available to make tasty and nutritious dishes,” says Diana Bertelsen, who helped research and develop recipes for Denmark’s Ribe Viking Center—a reconstructed Viking settlement where visitors can immerse themselves in just about every aspect of Viking culture, including what and how they ate.
“There are no original recipes from the Viking age available,” says Bertelsen, but “we know for certain what crops and animals were available a thousand years ago. Excavations reveal what the Vikings ate and what they imported, for instance peaches and cinnamon.”

Of course a specific Viking’s diet was heavily influenced by his or her location, says medieval scholar Eleanor Rosamund Barraclough. In cold, dry, coastal Scandinavia, for example, fish such as herring and salmon provided a key source of protein and were typically dried and preserved in salt.
This “stockfish,” as it’s called, “is a bit like beef jerky, only fishy,” says Barraclough. “It would have been a valuable food source on long sea journeys.”
Wealth also played a part in determining one’s diet, says Barraclough. “In Greenland, Vikings ate more seals, particularly on the poorer farms, while on the richer farms they ate more caribou.”
Seasons, too, dictated a Viking’s daily provisions. Depending on the time of year, meals might include a wide variety of berries, turnips, cabbage and other greens—including seaweed—barley-based porridge, and flat bread made from rye. Dishes were typically simple, but “we have no reason to believe that the food was bland and tasteless,” says Bertelsen.
Indeed, archaeological evidence suggests that Viking cooks were fond of flavor-enhancing ingredients like onions, garlic, coriander, and dill.
Vikings also prepared special food to celebrate seasonal events. “Boars were said to be sacrificed during the winter Yule celebration, and solemn oaths taken on their bristles,” says Barraclough.
Dairy would have made a frequent appearance in many a Viking diet. The seafaring warriors were farmers, after all, and skilled at animal husbandry. Cows and sheep did provide meat, but they also gave the Vikings a reliable supply of buttermilk, cheese, butter, and other products.
In Iceland, especially, Vikings enjoyed their dairy, and often ate it in the form of skyr, a fermented, yogurt-like cheese that today is sometimes marketed as a dairy “superfood.” Viking lore mentions the creamy substance, says Barraclough, who recalls a “saga where a man hides from his enemies in a vat of skyr—which comes very specifically up to his nipples.”
Like much about the Vikings, their eating habits remain a source of fascination—and inspiration—for many people. In fact, given the Vikings’ physical strength and surprisingly healthy diet, it makes sense to wonder: Could the “Viking Diet” be the next “Paleo?”

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WACO, Texas (Dec. 3, 2014) — Vikings are stereotyped as raiders and traders, but those who settled in Iceland centuries ago spent more time producing and consuming booze and beef — in part to achieve political ambitions in an environment very different from their Scandinavian homeland, says a Baylor University archaeologist.

The seafaring warriors wanted to sustain the “big man” society of Scandinavia — a political economy in which chieftains hosted huge feasts of beer and beef served in great halls, says Davide Zori, Ph.D., a Denmark native and archeological field director in Iceland, who conducted National Science Foundation-funded research in archeology and medieval Viking literature.

But instead, what Zori and his team discovered is what happened when the Vikings spent too long living too high on the hog — or, in this case, the bovine.

“It was somewhat like the barbecue here. You wanted a big steak on the grill,” said Zori, assistant professor in the Baylor Interdisciplinary Core, who co-edited the book Viking Archaeology in Iceland: Mosfell Archaelogical Project with Jesse Byock, Ph.D., professor of Old Norse and medieval Scandinavian studies at the University of California, Los Angeles.

“It made it really showy — if you could keep it up.”

The Viking chieftains used such wealth and cultural displays to flex political muscle with equals or rivals — or, at the other end of the political spectrum, to cement good relations with local laborers and supporters, Zori said.

Zori and Byock’s team excavated a farmstead called Hrísbrú in Iceland’s Mosfell Valley. The farm — inhabited by some of the most famous Vikings of the Icelandic sagas — included a chieftain’s longhouse nearly 100 feet long with a “feast-worthy” great hall, a church and a cemetery of 26 graves indicating a mix of pagan and Christian traditions, with male family members sometimes buried with ship remnants rather than in the simpler Christian manner of leaving earthly possessions behind.

Carbon dating and studies of volcanic eruption layers indicate the longhouse was built in the late ninth or early 10th century and abandoned by the 11th. The archeological team uncovered 38 layers of floor ash, including refuse dumped atop the abandoned house, and discovered samples of bones, barley seeds and valuable imported beads.

“By applying anthropology and medieval texts, we can excavate and compare,” Zori said.

Viking sagas, first written in the 13th century and based on oral traditions, recounted such details as where people sat at feasts, “which shows your ranking . . . These are really old texts, but they read almost like novels. They’re incredible sources. They talk about daily life,” Zori said.

“Yes, the Vikings may have put axes to one another’s heads — but these accounts also describe milking cows.”

High Times and Hard Times

When the Vikings arrived in uninhabited Iceland, they found forested lowlands, ample pasture land and sheltered sea inlets. Excavations show that choice cattle were selected for feasts, with ritual slaughter and display of skulls, according to research published by Zori and others in the journal Antiquity. Barley seeds unearthed from floors or refuse heaps indicate barley consumption, and pollen studies demonstrate barley cultivation. Barley could have been used for bread or porridge, but the social value of beer makes it very likely it was used primarily to produce alcohol, Zori said.

Over the centuries, as temperatures in the North Atlantic dropped during the “Little Ice Age,” being a lavish host got tougher.

“Nine months of winter — and three months that are only a little less than winter,” Zori said.

While sheep could find food free range most of the year and were well-suited for cold, the prized cattle had to be kept indoors in large barns during the winter. Savvy supply-and-demand reckoning was crucial to be sure the food lasted — both for cattle and humans — and could be properly preserved.

“They had to decide how many to slaughter and store,” Zori said. “They didn’t have salt, so they had to use big vats of curdled milk as a preservative.”

As the landscape changed due to erosion, climate shifts and cleared forests, it became harder to rear larger numbers of cattle.

High-status households also struggled to grow enough grain for beer-making and local consumption, based on historical accounts and confirmed by a growing body of archeological data. With a shorter growing season and colder climate than in their homelands in mainland Scandinavia, Icelandic, Vikings would have needed more laborers to improve the soil — and as the chieftains’ power waned, they would have had trouble attracting workers to fertilize and maintain the grain fields. As the same time that barley cultivation stopped, the local chieftains are no longer mentioned in the Viking sagas.

Changing Directions

“You can see in the archeological evidence that they adjusted their strategy and gave it up eventually,” Zori said. “It got harder and harder to keep up that showiness – and when that collapsed, you didn’t have that power, that beer and big slabs of beef to show off.”

When barley was abandoned, the pollen record shows native grasses common in grazing lands increased. Archeological findings show that the proportion of cattle to sheep bones declined over time, as Hrísbrú residents shifted to a more practical, less labor-intensive sheep-herding economy.

“You wonder what came first for the chieftains at Hrísbrú: Were they no longer powerful and didn’t need barley and beef? Or could they just not keep it up and so they lost power? I favor the second explanation,” Zori said.

“What we’re doing now is to let the archaeology speak, both for itself and for proof to verify (the texts),” he said. “Investigating politics breathes life into it, instead of just saying, ‘Here are three rocks.’ You can ask deeper questions.”

Zori argues that Viking chieftains’ drive to produce expensive beef and beer caused them to put their political aspirations above the greater good of the community.

“Maybe we don’t need the Vikings to prove this, but it shows you that politics can become more important than creating a productive society.”

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Original article:
Dec 4, 2014
baylor university

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Topic Viking beer

CARDIFF, WALES—At the Experimental Archaeology Conference earlier this month, archaeologists Merryn and Graham Dineley asserted that features of Viking settlements previously believed to be bathhouses might actually have been used to brew beer. Their hypothesis is based on the excavation of a stone structure dating back nine centuries at Cubbie Roo’s Castle on the Scottish archipelago of Orkney that, according to their interpretation, included what could be a mash oven and several drains. Further, the stone constructions are often located right next to what are known to be the Viking ceremonial drinking halls.

Original Article:
archaeology.org

Article from the 7th experimental archaeology conference

We have been studying traditional malting and beer brewing techniques for 15 years. Graham is a craft brewer with 30 years’ experience of making beer from the grain. Merryn is an archaeologist, completing her M.Phil ‘Barley Malt & Ale in the Neolithic’ at the University of Manchester in 1999 and continuing research independently since then. The brewing of ale is a skilled craft that has hardly changed over the millennia. For the last few years we have been looking into the potential archaeological evidence for the brewing of ale at Viking sites.

We know that the Vikings drank ale
. There are numerous references to it in the Sagas. We also know that the ale was made from malt. In the 10th Century AD, Haakon Haroldson, the first Christian king of Norway, decreed that Yule be celebrated on Christmas Day and that every farmstead “should brew two meals of malt into ale”. One brew was for family, the other for guests. There were fines for non compliance. If they failed to brew for three years in a row their farm was forfeit.
Ale was an important part of the Yule celebrations. Every farmstead had the facilities to make it. The ale was stored in huge vats, close to the drinking hall. The Orkneyinga Saga tells us that Svein Breastrope was ambushed and killed by Svein Asleiferson, who had hidden behind a stone slab by the ale vats in the entrance of the drinking hall at Orphir, Orkney. Since huge ale vats are not easily moved, then the malt must have been mashed and the wort fermented close to the ale store.
The products and by products of brewing ale are ephemeral, leaving no trace in the archaeological record. Ale is drunk, spent grain is fed to animals and residues are washed down the drains. Only the installations and perhaps some equipment may survive. In order to recognise Viking brewing facilities, it helps to understand something about how ale is made from malt.

Making ale from malt

Malt is grain that has been steeped in water, then allowed to grow until the rootlets just begin to appear. This is done on a malting floor within a barn. The malt is dried, then lightly crushed and mixed in the mash tun with hot water to make the liquid malt sugars known by brewers today as the ‘wort’. This is the ‘mashing’ process. A mash tun can be a large metal cauldron or wooden tub and this dictates how the water is heated. A metal cauldron is heated over a fire or a mashing oven. A wooden mash tun is heated using hot rocks. Finally, the wort is fermented into ale or beer, preserved and flavoured with angelica, meadowsweet, heather or bog myrtle.
All brewing equipment, such as mash tuns, cauldrons, fermentation vessels and storage vats must be kept scrupulously clean, to avoid infection and spoilage of the ale. Typically, a brewer uses 5 to 10 times as much water in cleaning the equipment than is used for making ale. Therefore, access to water and substantial drains are essential.

Original article
By Graham Dineley, craft brewer and Merryn Dineley, independent researcher
PDF file and more photos
academia.edu

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