The real-life medieval society which spawned the epic poem Beowulf is coming to light in a series of ground-breaking discoveries centred around the royal court of sixth-century Denmark.
The poem, one of the oldest literary works written in English, tells the story of how the hero Beowulf defeats the monster Grendel, who has been terrorising the royal hall of Heorot.
The fiend is attracted to the court by the sound of feasting - and excavations in the area thought to have inspired the poem have revealed that it did indeed host feasts on an epic scale.
Archaeologists are currently working in on a site in Lejre, in eastern Denmark, which was the centre of one of the most powerful Viking kingdoms from the sixth to the 10th century.
The town is considered by scholars to be the most likely site of Heorot, the hall of King Hrothgar, where the events of Beowulf are set.
In the Anglo-Saxon epic, composed some time before the 11th century, the monster Grendel repeatedly attacks Heorot after becoming enraged by the sound of feasting.
The Danish court is powerless to guard against the beast until the arrival of Beowulf, from the land of the Geats in modern-day Sweden, who kills Grendel and then descends under the sea and defeats the monster's mother.
The extent to which the events of the poem are based on historical fact is controversial, but it seems to have been inspired by the wealthy Danish court at Lejre.
And the current excavations have confirmed that giant feasting halls were an integral part of life at Lejre, according to a progress report published in BBC History magazine.
Archaeologists have found a total of seven halls dating from various points between 500 and 1000, implying that the structures were periodically torn down and rebuilt.
The earliest of all the halls, located 500m from all the others, is the one most likely to have provided the historical inspiration for Heorot.
On the site there are the remains of hundreds of animals apparently killed and eaten at massive feasts, as recounted in the poem.
The animals include cattle, sheep, suckling pigs, goats, chicken, geese, ducks, deer and fish - implying that the Scandinavian elite enjoyed a diverse and luxurious diet.
Pottery drinking vessels have also been found on the site, as well as up to 40 pieces of jewellery made from precious metals.
'For the first time, archaeology is giving us a glimpse of life in the key royal Danish site associated with the Beowulf legend,' said Tom Christensen, of the Roskilde Museum.
The area is thought to have been largely isolated from the rest of Europe, as the Norsemen did not convert to Christianity until the 10th century.
However, excavators at Lejre have found an animal jawbone which they believe belonged to a brown bear given to the Danish ruler by another European king.
Despite its historic importance, Lejre is now a town of just 2,000 on the island of Zeeland, 23 miles west of Copenhagen.
Officials plan to issue a full report on their finds next year, when the exhibits will go on show at local museums