|c. 445–420 BC
|405–384 BC (aged c. 40)
present-day Tollund, Denmark
|Cause of death
|Hanging (presumably ritual sacrifice)
|8 May 1950
|161 cm (5 ft 3 in)
The Tollund Man (died 405–384 BC) is a naturally mummified corpse of a man who lived during the 5th century BC, during the period characterised in Scandinavia as the Pre-Roman Iron Age.He was found in 1950, preserved as a bog body, near Silkeborg on the Jutland peninsula in Denmark. The man's physical features were so well preserved that he was mistaken for a recent murder victim. Twelve years before his discovery, another bog body, Elling Woman, was found in the same bog.
The cause of death has been determined to be by hanging. Scholars believe the man was a human sacrifice, rather than an executed criminal, because of the arranged position of his body, and his eyes and mouth being closed.
On 8 May 1950, peat cutters Viggo and Emil Hojgaard discovered a corpse in the peat layer of the Bjældskovdal peat bog, 12 km (7.5 mi) west of Silkeborg, Denmark, which was so well preserved that they at first believed they had discovered a recent murder victim.
The Tollund Man lay 60 m (200 ft) away from firm ground, buried under 2.3 m (7 ft 7 in) of peat, his body arranged in a fetal position. He wore a pointed skin cap of sheepskin and wool, fastened under his chin by a hide thong, and a smooth hide belt around his waist. Additionally, a noose made of plaited animal hide was drawn tight around his neck and trailed down his back. Other than these, the body was naked. His hair was cropped so short as to be almost entirely hidden by his cap. There was short stubble (1 mm (0.039 in) in length) on his chin and upper lip, suggesting that he was usually clean-shaven, but had not shaved on the day of his death. The Tollund Man was approximately 40 years old. The Tollund Man's last meal consisted of a porridge with barley, flax, wild weed seeds, and some fish.
Radiocarbon dating of Tollund Man indicated that he died circa 405–380 BCE.The preserved tender soft tissues of his body are the consequence of the acid in the peat, along with the lack of oxygen underneath the surface and the cold climate of the Nordic countries. The acid in the peat, needed for the preservation of a human body, is caused by a bryophyte named Sphagnum . Sphagnum fights against degradation due to resistant phenolic compounds contained in their cell walls. Due to the acidity of peat, bones are typically dissolved rather than preserved.
Scientists conducted an isotope analysis of the element strontium to measure the exact quantities to get an accurate idea of where he may have traveled before his death. They took samples from his femur and hair to compare. They were only able to measure up to a year because of his hairs being short. The results contained only small differences in strontium isotope proportions, suggesting that he spent his final year in Denmark, and that he may have moved at least 30 kilometres (20 mi) in his last six months.
Examinations and X-rays showed that the man's head was undamaged, and his heart, lungs and liver were well preserved. The Silkeborg Museum estimated his age as approximately 40 years and height at 1.61 m (5 ft 3 in), a relatively short stature even for the time. 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.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. Although the cervical vertebrae were undamaged (these vertebrae are often damaged as a result of hanging), radiography showed that the tongue was distended—an indication of death by hanging.
The stomach and intestines were examined and tests carried out on their contents.Scientists identified the man's last meal as porridge or gruel made from grains and seeds, both cultivated and wild. Approximately 40 kinds of seeds were identified, but the porridge was primarily composed of four types: barley, flax, false flax ( Camelina sativa ), and knotgrass. From the stage of digestion it was concluded that the man had eaten 12 to 24 hours prior to his death. Porridges were common for people of this time. Because neither meat nor fresh fruit was found in the last meal, it is suggested that the meal was eaten in winter or early spring, when these items were not available.
Both feet and the right thumb, being well conserved by the peat, were also preserved in formalin for later examination. In 1976, the Danish police made a fingerprint analysis, making Tollund Man's thumbprint one of the oldest prints on record.
The body is displayed at the Silkeborg Museum in Denmark, although only the head is original. Because conservation techniques for organic material were insufficiently advanced in the early 1950s for the entire body to be preserved, the forensic examiners suggested the head be severed and the rest of the body remain unpreserved. Subsequently, the body was 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.
In Denmark, more than 500 bog bodies and skeletal remains dating to the Iron Age have been recovered.Specimens from Jutland include the relatively well-preserved Borremose bodies, Huldremose Woman, Grauballe Man on display at Moesgaard Museum near Aarhus, and the similarly conserved Haraldskær Woman. Approximately 30 of these bog bodies are housed and/or displayed in Danish museums for continued research.
Nobel Prize–winning Irish poet Seamus Heaney wrote a series of poems inspired by P. V. Glob's study of the mummified Iron Age bodies found in Jutland's peat bogs, finding contemporary political relevance in the relics of the ritualistic killings.Heaney's poem "The Tollund Man", published in his Wintering Out collection, compares the ritual sacrifice to those who died in the sectarian violence of "the Troubles". Heaney wrote an excerpt from the poem in the Tollund Man exhibit's guest book in 1973.
British author Margaret Drabble, in her 1989 novel A Natural Curiosity , uses her characters' obsession with the Tollund Man to provide a satirical criticism of Margaret Thatcher's modern England.
Tollund Man is featured in several songs: "Tollund Man" (1995) by the American folk band The Mountain Goats and "Curse of the Tollund Man" (2004) by the English rock band The Darkness.
Tollund Man was mentioned in the episode "Mummy in the Maze" of the American television series Bonesand was also mentioned in the 2016 movie Sacrifice in which a bog body was found in the Shetland Islands.
He is also the subject of the modern novel Meet Me at the Museum, by Anne Youngson. One of the primary characters is a fictional curator at the Silkeborg Museum, who writes letters to an English woman, musing on the life and death of the Tollund Man.
Lindow Man, also known as Lindow II and as Pete Marsh, is the preserved bog body of a man discovered in a peat bog at Lindow Moss near Wilmslow in Cheshire, North West England. The remains were found on 1 August 1984 by commercial peat cutters. Lindow Man is not the only bog body to have been found in the moss; Lindow Woman was discovered the year before, and other body parts have also been recovered. The find was described as "one of the most significant archaeological discoveries of the 1980s" and caused a media sensation. It helped invigorate study of British bog bodies, which had previously been neglected.
A bog body is a human cadaver that has been naturally mummified in a peat bog. Such bodies, sometimes known as bog people, are both geographically and chronologically widespread, having been dated to between 8000 BCE and the Second World War. The unifying factor of the bog bodies is that they have been found in peat and are partially preserved; however, the actual levels of preservation vary widely from perfectly preserved to mere skeletons.
A bog or bogland is a wetland that accumulates peat as a deposit of dead plant materials – often mosses, typically sphagnum moss. It is one of the four main types of wetlands. Other names for bogs include mire, mosses, quagmire, and muskeg; alkaline mires are called fens. A bayhead is another type of bog found in the forest of the Gulf Coast states in the United States. They are often covered in heath or heather shrubs rooted in the sphagnum moss and peat. The gradual accumulation of decayed plant material in a bog functions as a carbon sink.
Jens Jacob Asmussen Worsaae was a Danish archaeologist, historian and politician, who was the second director of the National Museum of Denmark (1865–1874). He played a key role in the foundation of scientific archaeology. Worsaae was the first to excavate and use stratigraphy to prove C. J. Thomsen's sequence of the Three-age system: Stone, Bronze, Iron. He was also a pioneer in the development of paleobotany through his excavation work in the peat bogs of Jutland. Worsaae served as Kultus Minister of Denmark for Christen Andreas Fonnesbech from 1874 to 1875.
Peter Vilhelm Glob, also known as P. V. Glob, was a Danish archaeologist.
The Grauballe Man is a bog body that was uncovered in 1952 from a peat bog near the village of Grauballe in Jutland, Denmark. The body is that of a man dating from the late 3rd century BC, during the early Germanic Iron Age. Based on the evidence of his wounds, he was most likely killed by having his throat slit. His corpse was then deposited in the bog, where his body was naturally preserved for over two millennia. His was not the only bog body to be found in the peat bogs of Jutland. Together with other notable examples, Tollund Man and the Elling Woman, Grauballe Man represents an established tradition at the time. It is commonly thought that these killings, including that of Grauballe Man, were examples of human sacrifice, possibly an important rite in Iron Age Germanic paganism.
The archaeology of Denmark presents an extraordinary rich and varied abundance of archaeological artifacts, exceptionally preserved by the climate and natural conditions in Denmark proper – including boglands, shallow waters, a cold and relatively unvarying climate.
Below are notable events in archaeology that occurred in 1950.
The Haraldskær Woman is the name given to a bog body of a woman preserved in a bog in Jutland, Denmark, and dating from about 490 BC. Workers found the body in 1835 while excavating peat on the Haraldskær Estate. The anaerobic conditions and acids of the peat bog contributed to the body's excellent preservation. Not only was the intact skeleton found, but so were the skin and internal organs. Scientists settled disputes about the age and identity of this well preserved body in 1977, when radiocarbon dating determined conclusively that the woman's death occurred around the 5th century BC.
Wintering Out (1972) is a poetry collection by Seamus Heaney, who received the 1995 Nobel Prize in Literature.
Huldremose Woman, or Huldre Fen Woman, is a female bog body recovered in 1879 from a peat bog near Ramten, Jutland, Denmark. Analysis by Carbon 14 dating indicates that she lived during the Iron Age, sometime between 160 BCE and 340 CE. The mummified remains are exhibited at the National Museum of Denmark. The elaborate clothing worn by Huldremose Woman has been reconstructed and displayed at several museums.
The Elling Woman is a bog body discovered in 1938 west of Silkeborg, Denmark. The Tollund Man was later discovered just c. 60 m (200 ft) away, twelve years after the Elling Woman's discovery. The Elling Woman was mistakenly described as a man in P. V. Glob's book The Bog People, when it was published in 1965.
Osterby Man or the Osterby Head is a bog body of which only the skull and hair survived. It was discovered in 1948 by peat cutters to the southeast of Osterby, Germany. The hair is tied in a Suebian knot. The head is at the State Archaeological Museum at Gottorf Castle in Schleswig, Schleswig-Holstein.
The Borremose bodies are three bog bodies that were found in the Borremose peat bog in Himmerland, Denmark. Recovered between 1946 and 1948, the bodies of a man and two women have been dated to the Nordic Bronze Age. In 1891, the Gundestrup cauldron was found in a nearby bog.
The Bog People: Iron-Age Man Preserved is an archaeological study of the bog bodies of Northern Europe written by the Danish archaeologist P.V. Glob. First published in 1965 by Gyldendal under the Danish title of Mosefolket: Jernalderens Mennesker bevaret i 2000 År, it was translated into English by the English archaeologist Rupert Bruce-Mitford and published by Faber and Faber in 1969. In 1966 it was translated into German by Thyra Dohrenburg and published by Winkler Verlag Munich under the title Die Schläfer im Moor.
Silkeborg Museum is a museum of Danish cultural history with official state recognition based in Silkeborg Municipality, Denmark. Museum Silkeborg is located at three different sites: Manor House (Hovedgården) and the Paper Mill Museum (Papirmuseet) in Silkeborg and Blicheregnen farm in the village of Thorning.
The Dejbjerg wagon is a composite of two ceremonial wagons found in a peat bog in Dejbjerg near Ringkøbing in western Jutland, Denmark. These votive deposits were dismantled and ritually placed in the bog around 100 BCE. As of 2022, the wagon is on display at the National Museum of Denmark.
The conservation and restoration of human remains involves the long-term preservation and care of human remains in various forms which exist within museum collections. This category can include bones and soft tissues as well as ashes, hair, and teeth. Given the organic nature of the human body, special steps must be taken to halt the deterioration process and maintain the integrity of the remains in their current state. These types of museum artifacts have great merit as tools for education and scientific research, yet also have unique challenges from a cultural and ethical standpoint. Conservation of human remains within museum collections is most often undertaken by a conservator-restorer or archaeologist. Other specialists related to this area of conservation include osteologists and taxidermists.
"Punishment" is a poem by Irish poet Seamus Heaney first published in his 1975 collection North. It, along with "Bog Queen", "The Grauballe Man", "Strange Fruit" and "The Tollund Man", is inspired by P.V. Glob's book, The Bog People."Punishment" highlights similarities between Europe's ancient past and The Troubles in Northern Ireland.