Ancient Pottery Residue Suggests Scandinavians Drank Nordic 'Grog'
January 16, 2014

Ancient Pottery Residue Suggests Scandinavians Drank Nordic ‘Grog’

Gerard LeBlond for - Your Universe Online

Scandinavians from the years 1500-1300 BC in northwest Denmark and on the Swedish island of Gotland well into the first century AD, swilled down a brew called Nordic “grog.” Grog is a mixture of honey, bog cranberry, lingonberry, bog myrtle, yarrow, juniper, birch tree resin, wheat, barley, rye and sometimes grape wine from Europe.

Researchers from the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology found residue of this ancient brew inside pottery, drinking vessels and strainers recovered from four sites in Denmark and Sweden. This suggests that Nordic “grog” and grape wine that was imported from Europe was used by the Scandinavians more than 3000 years ago.

“Far from being the barbarians so vividly described by ancient Greeks and Romans, the early Scandinavians, northern inhabitants of so-called Proxima Thule, emerge with this new evidence as a people with an innovative flair for using available natural products in the making of distinctive fermented beverages," explained Dr. Patrick E. McGovern, lead author of the paper, published in the Danish Journal of Archaeology.

"They were not averse to adopting the accoutrements of southern or central Europeans, drinking their preferred beverages out of imported and often ostentatiously grand vessels. They were also not averse to importing and drinking the southern beverage of preference, grape wine, though sometimes mixed with local ingredients,” he added.

The four sites where the artifacts were unearthed were in a 150-mile radius of southern Sweden, including Denmark.

The oldest item was a pottery jar dated between 1500-1300 BC. It was found in an oak coffin along with a bronze sword and battle axe. The inside of the pottery was coated with a dark residue in which a sample was analyzed.

The second sample was taken that dated between 1100-500 BC. It was found in Kostraede, Copenhagen, where a bronze strainer was covered with a brownish residue.

The third sample was discovered at Juellinge on the island of Lolland, southwest of Kostraede. It was inside a coffin of a 30-year-old woman dated to around 200 BC. The item was a strainer-cup with the holes filled with a reddish-brown residue.

The fourth sample dated from the first century AD and was located on the Swedish island of Gotland in the Baltic Sea. It was found on a strainer-cup from a hoard along with a large gold neck ring and a pair of bronze bells.

Many of the original ingredients in Nordic “grog” went on to be used in birch beer and other medieval beers until hops became popular. Also in 1516, a German purity law was enacted limiting the ingredients of beer to barley, hops and water -- which became the norm in northern Europe.

Dr. McGovern notes, “About the closest thing to the grog today is produced on the island of Gotland in the Baltic Sea. You can taste Gotlandsdryka in farmhouses. It's made from barley, honey, juniper, and other herbs like those in the ancient version.”