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New Findings About The Tollund Man

Some day I will go to Aarhus….. I will feel lost unhappy and at home.” These bewitching lines are from the poem ‘ The Tollund Man’ by the famous Irish poet, Seamus Heaney, who had won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1995. American poet, Robert Lowell describes him as “ the most important Irish poet after Yeats. This poem draws its inspiration the mummified corpse of the Tollund Man, who had inhabited the earth around the 5th century BCE, this period was characterised in Scandinavia as the Pre Roman Iron Age.

There is an extremely interesting story about the discovery of the Tollund Man. In May 1950, peat cutters, Viggo and Emil Hojgaard, saw a corpse in the peat layer of Bjældskovdal peat bog, in the west of Silkeborg, Denmark. Since the corpse was in an extremely well- preserved condition, they had initially thought that he was a recent murder victim. However, the scientific examinations, including the C14 radiocarbon dating proved otherwise—it was asserted that he had died around 405-380 BCE—which literally took the academic world by storm. Scholars then asserted that the reasons why his body didn’t decompose were- the acid in the peat, in addition to the paucity of oxygen underneath the surface, besides, the cold climate of the Nordic country further arrested the process of decomposition.

Recent findings about the last meal of the Tollund Man have grabbed the headlines. As it was previously established that the cause of his death was suffocated, which could have possibly been a result of a ritualistic sacrifice.  Although, what recently captured the attention of scholars was what he ate just before meeting his violent end. Scientists were able to reconstruct the last meal of Tollund Man, by studying a piece of his colon. Analysis showed that he ate porridge, which was 50% barley, 9% weed called pale, and 5% flax, whereas, the remaining 1% included miscellaneous seeds. Also, the chemical and protein analysis revealed that 12-24 hours before his death,   he also consumed fatty fish, along with porridge. Yet another interesting finding of the study was the presence of several parasite infections which Tollund Man had contacted by eating raw or uncooked meat and by drinking contaminated water. Researchers have found the first reported case of tapeworm in an ancient body preserved in a bog.

Tollund Man is housed in the Museum Silkeborg in Denmark. The study lead researcher and archaeologist, Nina Nielsen said, “ That’s quite fascinating because you can get so close to what actually happened 2400 years ago. Our interpretation of Tollund Man was that he was ritually sacrificed. At this time in the Iron Age, it was common to use wetlands for ritual activities.”


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