National Geographic : 1954 Mar
Lifelike Man Preserved 2,000 Years in Peat A Danish Bog Yields Remains of a Human Sacrifice That Helps Reconstruct the Life of Europe's Ancient Tribes BY P. V. GLOB Professor of European Archeology, Aarhus University, Denmark ALL the world over, traces can be seen of prehistoric times, of the dwellings and the graves of ancient man. But in almost every case it is only through skeletons or scattered bones, sculptures, or other handi work that we can form our picture of early man. To see our distant ancestors as real human beings, we are forced to rely on our imagination. But not in Denmark! In this little land exceptional conditions of preservation allow us to see Bronze Age and Iron Age Man, not, of course, living, but in some cases so wonder fully preserved as to appear to be separated from our own era not by the millenniums which in fact have elapsed, but only by a few hours' sleep. Two large groups of discoveries provide these unique relics: Bronze Age burials from about 3,000 years ago, and peat-bog finds from the Iron Age at about the commence ment of our Christian Era. Some of the bodies found in these peat bogs of Jutland have been preserved to such an astounding degree that they show not the slightest desiccation and lie with rounded limbs as if asleep. In most cases, they are apparently offerings to the Iron Age gods. Peat Cutters Call the Police One of the best-preserved and most thor oughly investigated of these bodies from the peat bogs is the one found in May, 1950, in the course of peat cutting in Tollund Mose (Bog) in central Jutland. I was in the middle of a lecture that day at Aarhus University when I received a tele phone call from the police: a body had been found! They had been summoned by the peat cutters, who suspected a connection with a recent unsolved crime. Since the police had more than once been called out previously to investigate bodies which had lain for centuries under the peat, I saw at once the possibility of a more than usually interesting archeological discovery. I started at once for Tollund Mose, a narrow peat bog among high, steep hills in a wild re- gion of central Jutland (pages 420 and 427). In the peat cut, nearly seven feet down, lay a human figure in a crouched position, still half buried. A foot and a shoulder pro truded, perfectly preserved but dark brown in color like the surrounding peat, which had dyed the skin. Carefully we removed more peat, and a bowed head came into view. As dusk fell, we saw in the fading light a man take shape before us. He was curled up, with legs drawn under him and arms bent, resting on his side as if asleep. His eyes were peacefully shut; his brows were furrowed and his mouth showed a slightly irritated quirk as if he were not overpleased by this unexpected disturbance of his rest (pages 421, 426). That this rest had lasted 2,000 years was clearly shown by the seven feet of peat which had gradually formed above him throughout the centuries. Murder Mystery-2,000 Years Old But it was not by his own choice that this ancient man had come to rest here. This was revealed by a rope of two smooth plaited leather thongs which formed a noose around his neck, pulled chokingly tight, with the free end lying like a snake down his back. Moreover, he was without clothing, save for a cap and a belt. The pointed leather cap on his head was formed of eight pieces of skin, with the fur inside, and had a chin strap; his leather belt was tied in a loop in front. Clearly this man had been hanged and thereafter deposited in the peat bog. But why? It was unlikely that a mere criminal would have been treated in this way. Be sides, the fine features of the Tollund man would, in the view of many, argue against such a theory. Many questions like this presented them selves as we stood over the dead figure. But the answers would have to wait. Now it was necessary to act swiftly to prevent the air from destroying this rare relic and to bring it as soon as possible under the care of a skilled conservator.