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Tollund Man

The Tollund man lived about 2,000 years ago and was buried in a peat bog on the Jutland Peninsula in Denmark, a find known as a bog body. He is remarkable for the fact that his body was so well preserved, he seemed to have recently died.

On May 8 1950 brothers Emil and Viggo were cutting peat for their tile stove and the kitchen range in the Tollund peat bog, 10 km west of Silkeborg, Denmark. As the two brothers worked, they suddenly saw in the peat layer a face so fresh that they could only suppose that they had stumbled on a recent murder. They immediately notified the police at Silkeborg.

The Tollund Man lay 50 meters away from firm ground and had been covered by about 2 meters of peat, now removed. He wore a pointed skin cap on his head fastened securely under his chin by a hide thong. There was a smooth hide belt around his waist. Otherwise, he 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 very short stubble on his chin and upper lip. There was a rope made of two leather thongs twisted together under a small lump of peat beside his head. It was drawn tight around his neck and throat and then coiled like a snake over his shoulder and down his back.

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 about the time when Christ was born. The body must therefore have been put in the hole in the past roughly 2,000 years ago in the early Iron Age. The acid in the peat had prevented the body from decaying, along with the lack of oxygen underneath the surface. It looked as if he had been recently buried.

Examinations and X-rays showed that the man's head was undamaged, and his heart, lungs and liver were well preserved. He was not an old man, though he must have been over 20 years old because his wisdom teeth had grown in. He had probably been killed by the rope around his neck. The noose had left clear marks on the skin under his chin and at the side of his neck but there was no mark at the back of the neck where the knot was. It was impossible to tell if the neck had been broken because the bones were very crumbly.

The stomach and intestines were examined and tests were carried out on their contents. The scientists discovered that the man's last meal had been a kind of soup made from vegetables and seeds, some cultivated seeds and some wild: barley, linseed, 'gold of pleasure', knotweed, bristlegrass, and camomile.

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

  1. The soup contained many different kinds of wild and cultivated seeds and some of them must have been gathered deliberately, because they were not easy to find. The soup was probably for a special occasion.
  2. The soup was made up from seeds which were connected only with the spring where he was found.

The body is currently kept in the Silkeborg Museum in Denmark.

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