Archaeology is a fascinating subject. People may think it’s all about textbooks and digging for things that aren’t there, but every so often a good archaeologist will uncover an artifact dating from hundreds to thousands of years ago. And that makes the job well worth it!
Even with today’s research technology, there is still much we don’t know about the history of our world, its people and their culture, animals, plants, and events. The only remains of many of history’s mysteries and forgotten treasures lie deep beneath the soil, just waiting to be discovered…
What Is Archaeology?
Not Just Fossils
Archaeologists find many things hidden deep beneath the soil: from silver spoons to fossils and much, much more. But not everything they dig up can be explained by the modern minds of experts. In fact, sometimes, they dig up things never meant to be found…
While the mention of archaeologists usually brings to mind paleontologists excavating dinosaur bones or perhaps a nerdy scientist turned rugged adventurer like Indiana Jones, the truth is that you or I could be one. The catch is, you have to be in the right place at exactly the right time and know what you’re looking for.
On May 6, 1950, this happened to two brothers working hard in their small village. Viggo and Emil lived in the tiny town of Tollund, located on the Jutland peninsula in Denmark, where they worked at cutting away peat in the Bjældskovdal peat bog. As the simple laborers chopped away, they had no idea they were about to be part of something major…
Eastern European countries like Denmark and Scotland are full of these peat bogs. Peat, which is also known as turf, is an accumulation of decaying vegetation and organic matter that occurs in natural areas like peatlands, mires, moors, muskegs, or wetlands like the Bjældskovdal bog.
There were countless peat bogs in the area, in which the turf is cut up and used for its natural entrapment of fossil fuels, but this bog was very special. As the brothers chopped away, one of their wives stood by, helping to load the bails of peat into a wagon…
While the family cut down the peat and loaded it away, the woman noticed something extremely odd sticking out of a piece of the bog. Since these wetland areas can be particularly dangerous to anyone climbing through them, it wasn’t so unusual to find a poor animal who had met his fate in the bog, but this was different.
At first, they thought maybe it was a bit of “bog butter”, an old method for making butter from lard, tallow or dairy fat that has a yellowish color and smells like death and is preserved in the bog. Yet on closer inspection, it was clear this was something far more sinister, in a layer of the peat, they found what looked like a body…
Dead On Arrival
The corpse appeared to be so newly deceased that the brothers believed they had just discovered someone who was recently murdered and tossed into the bog. How else would anyone have ended up there? The family contemplated the eerie situation for a while before deciding they had to involve the police.
Call The Experts
Yet local police had no explanation for their bizarre and disturbing discovery. The body didn’t look like a regular corpse that would be decayed and rotten. Instead, it was perfectly preserved. They decided to consult with archaeologists…
When the archaeologists examined the corpse, they concluded the brothers had found no ordinary dead body. The man was part of a rare phenomena known as a “bog body” in which a corpse is naturally mummified and preserved in the bog’s natural ecosystem. Archaeologists and local newspapers would call their mysterious mummy “The Tollund Man”.
The Tollund Man’s physical features were so well preserved that he was first thought to be dead for just a few months, possibly years. Even his clothes were completely still intact. However, archaeologists recalled that 12 years earlier, another bog body, known as “The Elling Woman,” was discovered in the exact same bog. And others have been found all over England and Ireland as well…
The Tollund Man was nearly perfectly intact, although it appeared he had been through a lot in his life time. Even his hands were in good condition and he still had his nails. Archaeologists first thought the body was over many centuries old and most likely the victim of a ritual sacrifice. This means he would likely be much, much older than they assumed…
The amazing discovery of the Tollund Man was found to be a lot older. Two-thousand years old to be exact. Whoever Tollund Man was, he was alive during the 4th century BC, a period in Scandinavia known as the Pre-Roman Iron Age. He wore a cap made of sheepskin and wool and an animal skin belt around his waist. Other than that, he wore no clothing, but it was what archaeologists found around his neck that determined the truth about the fate of this incredible mummy…
2,000 Years Old
This 2000-year-old Tollund Man was buried 160 feet beneath the ground approximately 6.6 feet deep into the peat. He was curled up in the fetal position with an animal skin noose around his neck and trailing down his back, confirming his murder. They also found he had a little bit of stubble and didn’t shave that day… Perhaps because he knew he was going to die that day?
Because of the position of Tollund Man’s body, archaeologists believe he was a human sacrifice rather than an executed criminal or murder victim and the fact that his eyes and ears were closed. The two latter likely wouldn’t have received such a luxury. The C14 radiocarbon dating of Tollund Man was so precise that they discovered he lived and died in approximately 375–210 BC.
The bog was a perfect place to preserve such an incredible discovery so perfectly. If a man was buried in normal soil, his flesh would rot away and his bones would disintegrate over time. The soft tissue of Tollund Man’s body was kept in tact thanks to the acid in the peat combined with a lack of oxygen in side the bog and Denmark’s cool climate. Strangely enough, however, that same acid in the peat melted away Tollund Man’s bones.
Exams And X-Rays
At the time of his death, Tollund Man appeared to be in relatively good condition. Tests revealed his head, heart, lungs, and liver were all undamaged and even well preserved. The find was a true gold mine for archaeologists and historians like the team at the Silkeborg Museum who estimated he was 40 years and 5 ft 3 in when he died. However, it’s extremely likely he shrunk a bit while in the bog for 2,000 years…
Although the mummified Tollund Man of 1950 is one of the most incredible finds in history, others like “Lindow Man” have followed. Also named Lindow II and Pete Marsh this unfortunate fellow was discovered in the peat bog in Lindow, North West England in 1984 when the peat-cutting industry was more industrialized. And just one year before that, “Lindow Woman” was discovered, along with other body parts in the bog. It wasn’t just adults who were found in peat bogs, either…
A mummified little girl was discovered in a peat bog in the Netherlands. For that, archaeologists have no explanation. The history and mystery that these bog bodies hold died along with them, thousands of years out, but we can know for certain they lived in much darker times. Perhaps they were victims of human sacrifices like Tollund Man or maybe volunteers. Either way, archaeologists will continue to work to find more clues and more bog bodies from the pre-historic area.