Archaeologists find Beowulf’s Hall in Lejre

“Then glory in battle to Hrothgar was given,
Waxing of war-fame, that willingly kinsmen
Obeyed his bidding, till the boys grew to manhood,
A numerous band. It burned in his spirit
To urge his folk to found a great building,
A mead-hall grander than men of the era
Ever had heard of, and in it to share
With young and old all of the blessings
The Lord had allowed him, save life and retainers.
Then the work I find afar was assigned
To many races in middle-earth’s regions,
To adorn the great folk-hall. In due time it happened
Early ’mong men, that ’twas finished entirely,
The greatest of hall-buildings; Heorot he named it
Who wide-reaching word-sway wielded ’mong earlmen.”
-Beowulf

Archaeologists have discovered up to seven feasting halls in Lejre, 23 miles west of Copenhagen. Six of these halls were discovered either overlapping each other, or else close by each other, suggesting that one hall would be abandoned or demolished after a few generations in favour for another, newly constructed hall.

First page of Beowulf in Cotton Vitellius A. xv (Wikepedia)

First page of Beowulf in Cotton Vitellius A. xv (Wikepedia)

In addition to the structure of the halls, food leftovers and jewellery were also excavated. Hundreds of bones belonging to suckling pigs, beef, sheep, goat, deer, goose, duck, chicken and fish provide a varied list of the types of foods available to the upper classes. Over 40 individual pieces of gold, silver and bronze jewellery including gold rings, gold bars, and a silver figurine of Odin were found also, along with fragments of glass drinking ware and pottery, some of which can be traced back to England and the Rhineland. The strangest item found however, may be the wing of a sea-eagle, from which the archaeologists suggest the feathers were plucked to be used for fletching arrows.

Thanks largely to these artefacts, Archaeologists believe that the seven structures were being used between 500- 1000AD, roughly contemporary with the Anglo-Saxon migrations, the later Viking era, and ending just before the Norman invasion of England.

But it is the seventh hall that has scholars and the general public in a whirl.

This hall was found 500m away from the others, and based on associated artefacts is considered to be the earliest of the seven halls. It is partly for this reason that scholars believe that this hall may be the same one used by a legendary ruling dynasty, the Skyldings, and as the location for the opening scene in one of the most famous poems in English history. The famous hall of Heorot from Beowulf.

A reconstructed Viking Age longhouse (28.5 met...

A reconstructed Viking Age longhouse (28.5 metres long) in Fyrkat. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Yet Heorot is not just famous in one epic poem, but several Scandinavian sagas. The hall is mentioned in the Gesta Danorum, the Saga of the Scyldings, and Rolf Krakes Saga to name a few, all attesting to the hall being the home of Scyld Scefing, and the sons and grandsons (including King Hrothgar) that succeeded him. These men as well as others from their line are mentioned briefly in the beginning of Beowulf, but the exact location of Heorot is not included. It is from other sagas where we link Heorot with Lejre.

“King Hrolf made his home at Hleidargard, which is called Lejre. That’s in Denmark, a large and solid stronghold, and the pomp and splendour of the place was unheard of, and in every manner of magnificence it had no match.”
– the Saga of Hrolf Kraki

Beowulf is challenged by a Danish coast guard,...

Beowulf is challenged by a Danish coast guard, by Evelyn Paul (1911). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Despite the similarities, no one is saying that this hall, or any of the other halls excavated, is definitely Heorot. Without more definite proof, we can only use the site as a window on how life may have been around this time for the kings and their upper class subjects, which isn’t something to be disappointed in. We know very little about Scandinavia prior to the beginning of the Viking age in the later 8th century, so to find 7 halls and hundreds of artefacts variously dated over 500 years, is something indeed to get excited about.

The finds from the Lejre excavations will be put on permanent display next year at Roskilde and Lejre Museums. The findings of the excavations will be published early 2014.

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