TTB Played Key Role in Proving Sweden’s 3000-Year Drinking Tradition

Alcohol & Tobacco Tax & Trade Bureau played a key role in research proving Scandinavians were drinking alcohol beverages more than 3,000 years ago.

TTB’s alcohol laboratory provided concrete evidence of an early, widespread and long-lived Nordic grog tradition, as well as confirming grape wine was imported to Scandinavia from southern or central Europe as early as 1100 B.C.

The research not only demonstrated the cultural and social prestige attached to wine, but also the presence of an active trading network across Europe more than 3,000 years ago.

Patrick E. McGovern, scientific director of the University of Pennsylvania‘s famed Museum of Archaeology & Anthropolgy’s Biomolecular Archaeology Project reached out to TTB’s alcohol laboratory for help in analyzing residue samples from four sites in a 150-mile radius of southern Sweden the included Denmark.

Battle Axes and Roman Wine Sets

The oldest, dated 1500 – 1300 BC, was from Nandrup in northwestern Denmark, where a warrior prince had been buried in an oak coffin with a massively hafted bronze sword, battle-ax, and pottery jar whose interior was covered with a dark residue that was sampled.

A second Danish sample, dated to a later phase of the Nordic Bronze Age from about 1100 – 500 BC, came from a pit hoard at Kostræde, southwest of Copenhagen. A brownish residue filling a perforation of a bronze strainer, the earliest strainer yet recovered in the region, was sampled.

A third Danish sample was a dark residue on the interior base of a large bronze bucket from inside a wooden coffin of a 30-year-old woman, dating to the Early Roman Iron Age, about 200 BC, at Juellinge on the island of Lolland, southwest of Kostræde. The bucket was part of a standard, imported Roman wine-set, and the woman held the strainer-cup in her right hand.

A reddish-brown residue filling the holes and interior of a strainer-cup, again part of imported Roman wine-set, provided the fourth sample.  Dating to the first century AD, the strainer-cup was excavated from a hoard, which also included a large gold torque or neck ring and a pair of bronze bells, at Havor on the Swedish island of Gotland in the Baltic Sea.

Testing Robustness and Capabilities

At TTB’s alcohol laboratory in Beltsville, Md., the task was assigned to Armen Mirzoian, a 10-year veteran of the lab who obtained his chemical training at the University of Miami.

For TTB’s lab, which routinely analyzes alcohol beverages for evidence of contamination, as well as to ensure they meet necessary standards of identity, the project was viewed as an opportunity to test the robustness of TTB’s methods and the capabilities of its instruments and techniques.

“We hadn’t done this sort of thing before,” Mirzoian told us.  Not every lab has the instrumentation needed to run the liquid chromatography mass spectrometry and solid phase microextraction needed to analyse the samples.

The samples were mailed to the TTB lab, where Mirzoian followed standard procedures for running the tests:  the sample were extracted into a solution for the liquid chromatography analysis and into sample dishes for the solid phase microextraction.

Grog and Grape Wine

After being analyzed by the instruments, both produced a readout showing what the substances contained.  Wine produces one type of compound profile, while beer another.  The sampling techniques also enabled Mirzoian to identify the ingredients in the samples.

Mirzoian determined the inhabitants were imbiding an alcoholic “grog” — an extreme hybrid beverage with such local ingredients as honey, bog cranberry, lingonberry, bog myrtle, yarrow, juniper, birch tree resin, and cereals including wheat, barley and/or rye —and sometimes, grape wine imported from southern or central Europe.

“Far from being the barbarians so vividly described by ancient Greeks and Romans,” the new evidences show the early Scandinavians were “a people with an innovative flair for using available natural products in the making of distinctive fermented beverages,” McGovern said, adding:

“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.”

Mirzoian is listed as a co-author of the paper, which was published in the Danish Journal of Archaeology.


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