The great wooden hall was the hub of ancient Germanic society as we find it depicted in the Anglo-Saxon epic poem Beowulf. It was the stage on which the all-important gift-economy was enacted, through which kings and retainers were tied together by the totemic power of meaningful objects defining social position and making individual human life meaningful by relating it to other lives. It was the backdrop for great feasts in honour of the gods or to celebrate victories, where roaring fires would drench the hall in a golden glow and sparks of convivial laughter dance up to mighty rafters in coiling columns of rich, fat-scented smoke. And it was the stage where the scop, the Germanic bard, would perform oral epics and spell-bind his audience when tuning tales of ancestors and mythical heroes to sound of the lyre. It is over a thousand years ago, that the great wooden halls of the Germanic tribes have vanished from the face of the earth, but in 1949 an entire complex of such halls was suddenly resuscitated as a haunting spectre looming through the dusty curtain of millennia, when aerials were taken near the hamlet of Yeavering in the north of England. The picture is a fascinating window from which, with the naked eye, we can see into a dim past and cross the threshold of great wooden halls, their hearth glowing and its carved wooden structure reverberating with the swutol sang scopes (the bright song of the bard, Beowulf l.90).


Silvio Zinsstag,

teacher for ancient languages