Denmark Mummies

Tollund Man

The Tollund Man is the naturally mummified corpse of a man who lived during the 4th century BC, during the time period characterized in Scandinavia as the Pre-Roman Iron Age. He was buried in a peat bog on the Jutland Peninsula in Denmark, which preserved his body. Such a find is known as a bog body. Tollund Man is remarkable for the fact that his body, and in particular the face, was so well preserved that he seemed to have died only recently.

On Monday 6 May 1950, Viggo and Emil Hojgaard from the small village of Tollund were cutting peat for their stove in the Bjaeldskor Dale peat bog, 12 kilometres (7.5 mi) west of Silkeborg, Denmark. 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. 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. 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. The corpse's organs were as well preserved as its exterior, allowing scientists an opportunity to study them carefully. The scientists names were Fabian Garcia-Miller and Julian Godding.

The Tollund Man lay 50 meters (164 ft) away from firm ground and two metres underground, his body arranged in a fetal position, and buried under about 2 meters (7 ft) of peat. He wore a pointed skin cap fastened securely under his chin by a hide thong. There was a smooth hide belt around his waist. Other than these, the body was naked. Additionally, the corpse had a garotte made of hide drawn tight around the neck, and trailing down his back. 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.

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. Subsequent 14C radiocarbon dating of Tollund Man's hair indicated that he died in approximately 400 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. The Silkeborg Museum estimates his age as 40 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.

He was probably hanged using 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 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 an hallucinogenic substance, leading some researchers to argue that this may have been deliberately taken to alter his mental state.

Ergotised barley was possibly the source of the visions, and revelations granted to the initiates of the Classical Eleusinian Mysteries. 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.

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:

Tollund Man Today

The body is displayed at the Silkeborg Museum in Denmark, though only the head is original. Conservation techniques for organic material were insufficiently advanced in the early 1950s for the entire body to be preserved. Consequently, only the head was preserved - the rest of the body was not. As displayed today, the original head is attached to a replica of the body.

Other Jutland bog bodies

Similar bog chemistry was at work in conserving Haraldsker 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. Read more ...

Apart from several bog bodies, Denmark has also yielded several other mummies, such as the three Borum Eshoj mummies, the Skrydstrup Woman and the Egtved Girl, who were all found inside burial mounds, or tumulus.

Skrydstrup Woman

In 1875, the Borum Eshj grave mound was uncovered, which had been built around three coffins, which belonged to a middle aged man and woman as well as a man in his early twenties. Through examination, the woman was discovered to be around 5060 years old. She was found with several artifacts made of bronze, consisting of buttons, a belt plate, and rings, showing she was of higher class. All of the hair had been removed from the skull later when farmers had dug through the casket. Her original hairstyle is unknown. The two men wore kilts, and the younger man wore a sheath of which contained a bronze dagger. All three mummies were dated to 1351-1345 BCE.

The Skrydstrup Woman was unearthed from a tumulus in Southern Jutland, in 1935. Carbon-14 dating showed that she had died around 1300 BCE; examination also revealed that she was around 18-19 years old at the time of death, and that she had been buried in the summertime. Her hair had been drawn up in an elaborate hairstyle, which was then covered by a horse hair hairnet made by sprang technique. She was wearing a blouse and a necklace as well as two golden earrings, showing she was of higher class.

The Egtved Girl, dated to 1370 BCE, was found also inside a sealed coffin inside of a tumulus, in 1921. She was wearing a bodice and a skirt, including a belt and bronze bracelets. Also found with the girl were the cremated remains of a child at her feet, and by her head a box containing some bronze pins, a hairnet, and an awl.