Tollund Man

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Preserved full length corpse of the Tollund Man, with noose around neck

The Tollund Man is the naturally mummified corpse of a man who lived during the 4th century BC, during the time period characterised in Scandinavia as the Pre-Roman Iron Age.[1] He was found in 1950 buried in a peat bog on the Jutland Peninsula in Denmark, which preserved his body. Such a find is known as a bog body.[2] Tollund Man, and in particular the head and face, was so well-preserved that at the time of discovery he was mistaken for a recently deceased murder victim.[3]


[edit] Discovery

On May 8, 1950, Viggo and Emil Højgaard from the small village of Tollund were cutting peat for their stove in the Bjældskor Dale peat bog, 12 kilometres (7.5 mi) west of Silkeborg, Denmark.[3] As they worked, they noticed in the peat layer a face so fresh that they could only assume that they had discovered a recent murder victim, and notified the police at Silkeborg.[2] The police were baffled by the body, and in an attempt to identify the time of death, they brought in archaeology professor P. V. Glob.[3][4] Glob determined that the body was over two thousand years old, most likely murdered, and thrown into the bog as a sacrifice to fertility goddesses.[3][2]

The Tollund Man lay 50 meters (164 ft) away from firm ground, buried under approximately 2 meters (7 ft) of peat, his body arranged in a fetal position. He wore a pointed skin cap fastened securely under his chin by a hide thong. There was a smooth hide belt around his waist. Additionally, the corpse had a garrote made of hide drawn tight around the neck, and trailing down his back.[2] Other than these, the body was naked. His hair was cropped so short as to be almost entirely hidden by his cap. He was almost clean-shaven, but there was short stubble on his chin and upper lip, suggesting that he had not shaved on the day of his death.[5]

[edit] Scientific examination and conclusions

The Tollund Man's face, showing the excellent preservation of his features

Underneath the body was a thin layer of moss. Scientists know that this moss was formed in Danish peat bogs in the early Iron Age, therefore, the body was suspected to have been placed in the bog approximately 2,000 years ago during the early Iron Age.[3] Subsequent 14C radiocarbon dating of Tollund Man's hair indicated that he died in approximately 400 BC.[6] The acid in the peat, along with the lack of oxygen underneath the surface, had preserved the soft tissues of his body.

Examinations and X-rays showed that the man's head was undamaged, and his heart, lungs and liver were well preserved. Although not elderly, Tollund Man must have been over 20 years old because his wisdom teeth had grown in. The Silkeborg Museum estimated his age as approximately 40 years and height at 161 centimetres (5.3 ft), of comparatively short stature even for the time period. It is likely that the body had shrunk in the bog.

On the initial autopsy report in 1950, doctors concluded that Tollund Man died by hanging rather than strangulation.[7] The rope left visible furrows in the skin beneath his chin and at the sides of his neck. There was no mark, however, at the back of the neck where the knot of the noose would have been located. After a re-examination in 2002, forensic scientists found further evidence to support these initial findings.[8] Although the cervical vertebrae were undamaged (as they often are in hanging victims), radiography showed that while the tongue was undamaged as well, it was distended -- an indication of death by hanging.[9]

The stomach and intestines were examined and tests carried out on their contents.[3] The scientists discovered that the man's last meal had been a kind of porridge made from vegetables and seeds, both cultivated and wild: Barley, linseed, gold of pleasure (Camelina sativa), knotweed, bristlegrass, and chamomile. The barley ingested contained large amounts of ergot fungus found on rotted rye. Ergot is a hallucinogenic substance, leading some researchers to argue that this may have been deliberately taken to alter his mental state.[6] British author John Grigsby argues that Tollund Man may have been killed in the rites of the Goddess Nerthus mentioned by Tacitus in his Germania, in which victims were ritually drowned. In his book Beowulf and Grendel, Grigsby suggests that the ingestion of ergot was part of Nerthus's cult and that the subjugation of this religion by the Danes in the 5th and 6th centuries lay behind the epic tale of Beowulf.[10]

There were no traces of meat in the man's digestive system, and from the stage of digestion it was apparent that the man had lived for 12 to 24 hours after this last meal. In other words, he may not have eaten for up to a day before his death. Although similar vegetable soups were not unusual for people of this time, two interesting things were noted:[3]

  • The soup contained many different kinds of wild and cultivated seeds. Because these seeds were not readily available, it is likely that some of them were gathered deliberately for a special occasion.
  • The soup was made from seeds only available near the spring where he was found.

[edit] Tollund Man today

The body is displayed at the Silkeborg Museum in Denmark, although only the head is original.[3] Conservation techniques for organic material were insufficiently advanced in the early 1950s for the entire body to be preserved, therefore, the forensic examiners suggested the head be severed and the rest of the body remain unpreserved. Subsequently the body desiccated and the tissue disappeared. In 1987, the Silkeborg Museum reconstructed the body using the skeletal remains as a base. As displayed today, the original head is attached to a replica of the body.

Both feet and the right thumb, being well-conserved by the peat, were also preserved in formalin for later examination. In 1976, the Danish National Police Force made a finger-print analysis, making Tollund Man's thumb print one of the oldest finger-prints on record.[3]

[edit] Other Jutland bog bodies

Similar bog chemistry was at work in conserving Haraldskær Woman, also discovered in Jutland as a mummified Iron Age specimen. Forensic analysis also suggests a violent death, or perhaps a ritualistic sacrifice, due to presence of noose marks and a puncture wound.

[edit] See also

[edit] References

  1. ^ Susan K. Lewis - PBS (2006). "Tollund Man". Public Broadcasting System - NOVA. Retrieved on September 22 2007. 
  2. ^ a b c d Glob, P. (2004). The Bog People: Iron-Age Man Preserved. New York: New York Review of Books. pp. 304. ISBN 1590170903. 
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i Silkeborg Public Library, Silkeborg Museum (2004). "The Tollund Man". Silkeborg Public Library. Retrieved on September 22 2007. 
  4. ^ (NYRB). "P. V. Glob (1911-1985)". New York Review of Books (NYRB). Retrieved on September 22 2007. 
  5. ^ Achyut Raj Adhikari (2002). "Wetlands for life". The Sunday Post. Retrieved on September 22 2007. 
  6. ^ a b Roger Highfield (2001). "Experts uncover the magic of Harry Potter's ancestors". The Daily Telegraph UK. Retrieved on September 22 2007. 
  7. ^ Silkeborg Museum, The Tollund Man's Appearance, Silkeborg Museum and Amtscentret for Undervisning, Silkeborg Public Library, 2004
  8. ^ Silkeborg Museum, Latest Research, Silkeborg Museum and Amtscentret for Undervisning, Silkeborg Public Library, 2004
  9. ^ Silkeborg Museum, Was the Tollund Man Hanged?, Silkeborg Museum and Amtscentret for Undervisning, Silkeborg Public Library, 2004
  10. ^ Grigsby, John L. (2006). Beowulf and Grendel: The Truth Behind England's Oldest Legend. Duncan Baird Publishers/Watkins. pp. 256. ISBN 1-84293-153-9. 

[edit] Further reading

  • Coles, Byrony; John Coles (1989). People of the Wetlands: Bogs, Bodies and Lake-Dwellers. London: Thames and Hudson. 

[edit] External links

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