The Medieval Norse seafarers known as the Vikings are known for a lot of things: shipbuilding, exploration, and their elaborate, sometimes unexplained burial rites. While modern pop culture portrayals often depict the Vikings as always ready for a bit of the old ultra-violence, some historians claim this is a misrepresentation based on conflicts with Medieval Christians in Europe which were passed down into our modern cultural consciousness. Sure, there were raids, but aside from the good ol’ plundering and pillaging, Vikings had a rich culture which was quite advanced for its time.
To add to the growing body of knowledge about the sophistication of Viking culture, a new study published in the Danish Journal of Archaeology claims that analysis of two grape seeds found at the well-known Viking archaeological site of Tissø could prove that Vikings possessed the knowledge and ability to produce their own wine.
The authors still aren’t sure how widespread wine consumption might have been, but are confident that these seeds reveal a previously unknown aspect of Viking culture:
Even though it is not possible to determine whether the two seeds found at Tissø are a result of either grape consumption (fresh or dried) or used for wine production, these finds point to that grapes and probably wine were products consumed by the elite at Tissø.
Alcohol consumption in ancient Scandinavia is apparently a rather common topic of archaeological research. It was previously believed that wine or grapes might have been brought back to Scandinavia by Viking traders (or raiders, of course), but isotopic analysis has revealed that these grapes were indeed grown locally in Denmark.
Peter Steen Henriksen, curator of Denmark’s National Museum, told Danish news source The Local DK that this revelation could rewrite the history of alcohol production and consumption in Denmark:
This is the first discovery and sign of wine production in Denmark, with all that that entails in terms of status and power. We do not know how [the grapes] were used – it may have been just to have a pretty bunch of grapes decorating a table, for example – but it is reasonable to believe that they made wine.
Like other archaeological announcements made recently, the conclusion reached by this study’s authors can be seen as somewhat of a leap. Two grape seeds were found which were revealed to have been grown nearby, that much is definitive. Reaching the conclusion that this implies a Viking winemaking culture requires somewhat of an imagination, given that wine-related artifacts or art aren’t exactly common in Viking culture. Nevertheless, this is an interesting start to what could be a new chapter in our understanding of Viking history.