17 February 2014
Nordic people drank wine 3,000 years ago
Based on chemical evidence derived from ancient drinking vessels from Demark and Sweden, researchers have added imported grape wine to the list of local ingredients of Bronze Age 'grog', which included honey, bog cranberry, lingonberry, bog myrtle, yarrow, juniper, birch tree resin, and cereals including wheat, barley, and rye.
Patrick E McGovern, Scientific Director of the Biomolecular Archaeology Project at the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, and author of "Uncorking the Past: The Quest for Wine, Beer and Other Alcoholic Beverages", is the lead author on the paper.
The findings provide the first chemical evidence for the importation of grape wine from southern or central Europe as early as 1100 BCE.
The researchers obtained samples from four sites in southern Sweden and Denmark. The oldest, dated 1500-1300 BCE, was from northwestern Denmark, where a warrior prince had been buried in an oak coffin with a massively hafted bronze sword, a battle-axe, and a pottery jar. A second Danish sample, dated to about 1100-500 BCE, came from a pit hoard southwest of Copenhagen - the earliest bronze strainer yet recovered in the region. A third Danish sample was from a large bronze bucket inside the wooden coffin of a 30-year-old woman, dating to about 200 BCE. The bucket was part of a standard, imported Roman wine-set, and the woman held the strainer-cup in her right hand. Residue from another strainer-cup, again part of imported Roman wine-set, provided the fourth sample. Dating to the first century CE, it was excavated from a hoard which included a large gold torque and a pair of bronze bells, on the Swedish island of Gotland.
According to Dr McGovern, the importation of southern wine eventually eclipsed but never replaced the grog tradition. Many of the ingredients in Nordic grog went on to be consumed in birch beer and as the principal bittering agents of medieval beers before hops gained popularity.
"About the closest thing to the grog today is produced on the island of Gotland in the Baltic Sea," Dr McGovern noted. "It's made from barley, honey, juniper, and other herbs like those in the ancient version. This new evidence of an old tradition resonates with modern inhabitants of Scandinavia, where alcoholic beverages are very much enjoyed and seen as an intrinsic part of Nordic and Viking lore."
Edited from PhysOrg (16 January 2014), ScienceNordic (22 January 2014)