Monday, May 1, 2017

Body in the Bog -- Tollund Man

When digging in the Bjaeldskovdal peat bog in May of 1950, two brothers and one of their wives stumbled upon a corpse. Under more than six fit of peat, it lay in the fetal position, a cap still on it's on head and a rope still tightened around its neck. The face was that of a man, his stubble and wrinkles still evident, his expression strangely peaceful. Besides the pointed, sheepskin cap, a wide belt around his waist, and his noose, the body was completely nude. Believing they had discovered a recently murdered man, the family notified the police in Silkeborg, Denmark.

Unable to determine a time of death, the police eventually brought in archaeology professor P.V. Glob to assist. His findings? The acid and lack of oxygen in the peat bog along with cold Scandinavian temperatures had preserved the body for over 2,000 years and it had likely been placed there as a ritual sacrifice.

The body came to be known as the Tollund man and he has been relentlessly studied by traditional autopsy, x-rays, and CT scans over the past 67 years, slowly giving away his secrets and expanding our knowledge about a largely dark period of history.

He was about 40 years old when he was killed and stood approximately 5'3", a short man even for his time. His hair was cropped short enough to mostly be hidden beneath his cap and he did not shave the day he died. Radiocarbon dating indicates that he died in approximately 375–210 BC. It is believed that he was hanged rather than strangled. 

His stomach and its contents were well preserved, and scientists found that the last meal he ate was a porridge made up primarily of barley, flax, false flax, and knot grass. It contained a staggering total of approximately 40 different seeds and grains, both wild cultivated. The final meal contained no meat, fish, or fruit. It is believed, therefore that he died some time in winter or early spring. 

His body shows no signs of trauma besides that which was inflicted by hanging and he was carefully buried, his eyes and mouth shut, his limbs arranged. Centuries in the acidic peat colored his hair bright red, but there is no way to know what color it was when he lived. Archaeologists generally believe that he was buried fully clothed, but that his garments may have been made of vegetable materials which rotted long ago.

At this point in time, there is no way to perform DNA tests on Tollund man for additional information, though scientists hope that new methods of testing may one day open that possibility.

Tollund Man is currently on public display in the Silkeborg Museum in Denmark. The display consists of the original head and feet as well as one thumb which were preserved by replacing the peat water in the cells with wax. The rest of the original mummy unfortunately dried out and a recreation finishes the display. To learn more, there is a dedicated website

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