The Tollund Man lived during the late 5th century BC and/or early 4th century BC, about 2,400 years ago. He 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 that he seemed to have died only recently.
On May 6, 1950, the Højgård brothers from the small village of Tollund were cutting peat for their tile stove and kitchen range in the Bjældskovdal 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.
Tollund Man lay 50 meters away from firm ground, his body arranged in a fetal position, and had been buried under about two meters of peat. 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, suggesting that he had not shaved on the day of his death. 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 Jesus was born. Therefore, the body was suspected to have been placed in the bog approximately 2,000 years ago during the early Iron Age. Subsequent C14 radiocarbon dating of Tollund Man's hair indicated that he died in approximately 350 BC. 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. He was not an old man, though he must have been over 20 years old because his wisdom teeth had grown in. Silkeborg museum estimates his age as 40 and height at 161cm, comparatively short-statured even for his time period. He was probably hanged to death by the rope around his neck. The noose 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 found. Due to skeletal decomposition, it is impossible to tell if the neck had been broken.
The stomach and intestines were examined and tests 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:
- 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.
At first, Tollund Man was believed to be a rich man who had been ritually sacrificed, but recent analysis suggests that he may simply have been a criminal who was hanged and buried in the peat bog.
The body is currently kept in the Silkeborg Museum in Denmark.
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