As one of the bog bodies discovered in Scandinavia, the Tollund Man holds distinction due to its well-preserved - and striking - appearance.
The mysterious story of the Tollund Man is one that continues to fascinate archeologists and scientists. Found in a bog in the Jutland peninsula in the mid-20th century, the Tollund Man lived during the Iron Age and is believed to have been the victim of a religious sacrifice. While many of the details about the Tollund Man are pure speculation, the combined efforts of Mother Nature and human researchers have led to fascinating new revelations in the decades since he was found.
The Tollund Man Was So Well Preserved, Some Believed He Was A Recent Victim
The Tollund Man, as he would come to be known, wasn't the first body found in the bog. There had been two others, both ancient, that had been found in recent years. However, the condition of the Tollund Man was so pristine, observers thought he was a recent victim. There was even a local boy from Copenhagen who had gone missing recently, so when the Højgaard brothers contacted police in nearby Silkeborg, they told them they might have found the missing young man.
Authorities were inclined to think the remains were much older. There were no signs of recent burial, and the man was buried quite deep in more than eight feet of peat. They contacted the Silkeborg Museum, and law enforcement and archeological officials collectively descended on the site.
His Placement In A Bog Led Scholars To Believe He'd Been Ritually SacrificedPhoto: Fondo Antiguo de la Biblioteca de la Universidad de Sevilla / wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 2.0
In pagan culture, sacrifices to the gods were common. While practices and rituals varied, many believe the Tollund Man was one of these sacrificial victims. Roman scholar Cornelius Tacitus described one such ritual sacrifice: "At an appointed time all tribes meet... in a forest consecrated by their ancestors, surrounded by fear, sacred from the dawn of time. There, on behalf of those assembled, they celebrate the commencement of their barbaric cult with a human sacrifice."
Some historians believe the Tollund Man met a similar fate. Because he was found with a noose around his neck, his placement in what seems to have been a grave led P.V. Glob to argue that he was a sacrifice to a fertility goddess. Glob and others argued that Iron Age peoples may have seen bogs as paths or openings to the spiritual realm. More recently, Miranda Aldhouse-Green has reasserted this claim. The Tollund Man may have been sent with a message or sacrificed as an offering - perhaps forcefully or by his own volition.
The archeological and historical evidence doesn't overwhelmingly support of this theory, especially since there have been relatively few bodies found, but it's impossible to count such a theory out.
The Tollund Man Was Discovered In 1950
When two men, Viggo and Emil Højgaard, were out cutting peat to use as fuel on May 6, 1950, they happened upon human remains. The Højgaard brothers lived near a bog in Bjældskovdal in the Jutland peninsula of Denmark. Viggo's stepson John Kauslaund recalled how his mother Grethe took matters into her own hands:
Mother rolled up her sleeves and started digging in the mud. She dug into the cliff where people were standing cutting peat and said: "You can say whatever you want to but there's something strange here." She kept digging, and then she stuck her fingers in between the forehead and the cap on the Tollund Man's head...
He Was Buried With Almost No Clothes And A Noose Around His Neck
The Tollund Man was found curled in the fetal position wearing only a leather belt and a cap. There was a leather strap around his neck, indicating that he'd been hanged. The first medical professionals to examine the remains at Bispebjerg Hospital in Copenhagen, Denmark, assumed as much: "The rope, judging by the way it was placed around the... neck, was most likely not used for strangulation, and because of that it is of less importance that the cervical vertebras were undamaged as this doesn’t always happen in hangings."
Later analysis and X-rays confirmed that the Tollund Man had no broken vertebrae, indicating he'd been suffocated and not hanged in a way that would have broken his neck.