In 1950 peat workers in Jutland, Denmark, found the preserved body of a man in the peat bog. The body appeared so fresh that they at first believed they had discovered a recent murder victim. But C14 radio-carbon dating showed that he died around 375 – 210 BC.
The body was arranged in a foetal position and scholars believe that the man was a human sacrifice. A noose made of plaited animal hide was drawn tight around his neck and trailed down his back. Examination by forensic scientists show that the man, who was aged around 40, died by hanging rather than strangulation. Although the cervical vertebrae were undamaged, radiography showed that the tongue was distended — an indication of death by hanging.
Examinations and X-rays showed that the man’s head was undamaged, and his heart, lungs and liver were well preserved. The stomach and intestines were examined and tests carried out on their contents. His last meal was porridge or gruel made from grains and seeds and approximately 40 kinds of seeds were identified. From the stage of digestion it was concluded that the man had eaten 12 to 24 hours prior to his death.
He wore a cap made of sheepskin and wool, fastened under his chin by a hide thong, and a smooth hide belt around his waist. Apart from that, the body was naked. His hair was cropped short and there was stubble on his chin and upper lip, suggesting that he had not shaved on the day of his death.
The body is displayed at the Silkeborg Museum in Denmark, although only the head is original. Conservation techniques were insufficiently advanced in the early 1950s for the entire body to be preserved, so the head was severed and the rest of the body allowed to decompose naturally. In 1987, the 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.
More than 500 mummified bog bodies and skeletal remains, dating to the Iron Age, have been discovered in Denmark.
Text Alun Harvey