Nordic people drank wine 3,000 years ago

January 22, 2014 - 06:15

Researchers have found traces of wine in jars, dating back to 1100 BC. The finds suggest that wine was imported long before previously thought.

The discovery of traces of wine in an Old Nordic jar reveals that Nordic people drank wine as early as 1100 BC. The archaeologists behind the discovery believe that Nordic people may have received the wine through trading with central and southern Europeans. (Illustration: Robert Brown)

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 Nordic 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 Nordic 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.

Danish researcher not entirely convinced

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.”

The three Danish jars. The oldest one (A) is believed to date back to 1500-1300 BC. The second-oldest one (B) turned out to contain remains of wine. The youngest jar (C) dates to around 200 BC. (Photo: Patrick E. McGovern et al.)

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.

"We were always drunk up in the North"

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.

Jars with wine and honey

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’.

This is the first chemical proof that wine made from grapes from southern or central Europe was imported as early as 1100 BC.
Patrick E. McGovern

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.

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Read the Danish version of this article at videnskab.dk

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