Lindow Man – the body in the bog

In the British Museum is a remarkable Iron Age corpse, a wonderfully preserved ‘bog body’ from the 1st century CE discovered in a place called Lindow Moss near Wilmslow in Chesire in 1984.

Lindow Moss is a peat bog and while workmen were harvesting this peat they discovered a leg. The previous year the head of a woman (dated to the 2nd or 3rd century CE) had been found, so the archeologists were called in.

The body they found had been preserved by the unique qualities of the bog – essentially the body had been ‘tanned’ like leather and, as soon as it was exposed to the air, started decomposing. The preservation work resulted in the body you see above being freeze-dried so it could go on display.

1900 years of compression by the weight of peat above him has squished his skull, but the archeologists have determined that at death the man was around 25 years old, about 5′ 6″ (165cm) and weighed about 9 1/2 stone (135lb or 60kg). He’d been put into the bog naked apart from a fox fur band on his upper arm and his fingernails had been manicured, suggesting he was not someone used to heavy labour or rough work.

He had been well and truly killed (“overkill” as it’s called). First he’d been hit over the head with something like the back of an axe, with sufficient force to smash his skull. There was a ligature around his neck, so he may have been strangled; his neck was broken. There were also wounds to his neck and throat, and to other parts of his body. He’d then been thrown face down into the bog.

We don’t know the circumstances of his death; Iron Age Britain was a pre-literate civilisation so we have no written records. It could have been a murder or robbery, but the overkill seems to be too much for that (and Lindow Moss is a remote place even now). We do know from the Romans that there was some human sacrifice practiced among the Britons, so the feeling is that this may have been some ritual killing, but it’s impossible to be sure.

There’s a bit more about Lindow Man (or ‘Pete Marsh’ as the curators once called him) in my video talk below.