Background information about the mummy
Andy Mould had a special knack that most people don't have. Or
maybe it was just a coincidence. But in 1983 and then again in
1984, he found human remains in an English peat bog known as
Lindow Moss. The first time, he had found the head (mostly a
skull with little skin or brain remaining) of a woman.
year later, on August 1, 1984, he was working with Eddie
Slack, placing blocks of peat onto an elevator that would
transport them to a shredding mill, when he looked at one
block of peat and noticed what he thought was a piece of wood
embedded in it. He threw it toward Eddie but it struck the
ground and crumbled, revealing a human foot. Without
hesitation, Andy reported his disturbing find, and shortly the
police arrived. With Andy and Eddie's help, they located the
area of the bog where the foot had been found. There, on the
surface, was a flap of darkened skin belonging to what was
later called Lindow Man. They covered it with wet peat until
scientists could be summoned to view the body.
days later, in the presence of several paleobotanists and a
biologist, the block of peat containing Lindow Man was cut,
placed on a sheet of plywood, and transported to a local
hospital. There, the authorities attempted to date the
remains. After all, no one knew if Lindow Man was a recent
murder victim or a man from the past.
it turned out, Lindow Man had died between A.D. 50 and A.D.
100. The scientists learned, when the body was examined, that
the man had been murdered. They determined this by examining
his body visually and then inspecting x-rays of it. At the
same time, they tried to create an image of Lindow Man's
appearance. Then they looked inside--especially at his stomach
--to find more clues to the mystery of his death.
account is taken from How
to Make a Mummy Talk (Houghton Mifflin, 1995)
visual examination of Lindow Man
close visual examination provided obvious clues that Lindow
Man had been murdered.
and neck. First,
he had been hit twice on the crown of his head with a blunt
object, probably an ax; he had also been struck once at the
base of his skull. Second, he had been strangled. Around
Lindow Man's neck was a small rope that had been twisted
tightly, closing off his windpipe and breaking two of his neck
vertebrae. Finally, scientists found a gash at the throat,
which may indicate that his throat was cut, though some
scientists think that the wound occurred naturally after his
death. If indeed his throat was cut, it was probably done to
drain his body of blood.
discovered some interesting details by looking at Lindow Man's
hair and beard. They were surprised that he had a beard, since
no other male bog body had been found with a beard; this was
clearly not common at the time he lived. Scientists also
learned that someone had trimmed Lindow Man's hair with
scissors two or three days before his death. Historians and
archaeologists knew that, although scissors existed in England
at the time, they would have been uncommon, most likely
reserved for a privileged few. Was the murdered man, they
wondered, a dignitary?
found that his fingernails appeared well-manicured and cared
for. They wondered if this showed that he was an important
member of society, who was exempt from manual labor. But as
Don Brothwell, who studied Lindow Man, explained, no one
really knows what the manicured fingernails of a bog person
would look like, since no one has ever compared the
fingernails of mummies.
Lindow Man was naked, except for an arm band made of fox fur
and the thin rope around his neck. Without clothes, he could
have been a king or a laborer. As author Brothwell put it:
did he have a well-developed, but roughly trimmed, beard -
unique among bog bodies - and well-kept nails? Was he an
aristocrat fallen on hard times, or a high-born prisoner
sacrificed to the gods?
physical reconstruction of Lindow Man
next step pursued was the reconstruction of Lindow Man. What
did he look like? How tall was he? What was his body build?
Because his body was rather flattened and his face squashed by
the layers of heavy peat bog pressing against the body,
scientists wanted to get a more realistic picture of the
anthropologists and other scientists can use the length of a
person's leg bones (the femur and tibia) to provide an
estimate of his height. Remember, though, that Lindow Man's
legs had not been recovered with the body. The scientists had
to use another technique which relied on the humerus (or upper
arm bone). In this way, they determined that Lindow Man was
about five feet seven inches tall, probably a little taller
than most men in his realm.
team of scientists noted that, judging from the outside
anyway, Lindow Man was well-built and clearly in his prime.
Lindow Man's stomach
the scientists explored Lindow Man's interior cavity, looking
for any signs of disease, they were pleased to find that his
stomach had not decayed. It contained something like brown
mud, the remnants of the last meal he had eaten. Because they
found only twenty grams of partially digested food, the
scientists concluded that Lindow Man's last meal was really
more of a snack. It consisted mostly of cereal grains, but
something that he ate was burnt. They wondered, was it bread
or gruel? Although no one can be certain, they believe that
his meal consisted in part of some charred bread (though he
could have had some scorched gruel, too).
also found evidence of pollen from a mistletoe plant in his
stomach. If it came from a flower, this would allow scientists
to place his death in March or April. If it was dried pollen,
added as an ingredient to his dinner, then the time of his
death is harder to place.
Anne Ross thinks she knows what happened to Lindow Man. When
the Romans invaded Britain, they conquered the local tribes of
Celts and wrote a number of accounts describing Celtic
ceremonies and practices, many of which struck them as
barbaric. In one festival, called Beltain, which was held on
May 1, a victim was selected for sacrifice to make sure that
the summer's crops would be successful.
how historians believe the festival was celebrated: a bonfire
was lit on top of a hill. In it, an oatmeal cake, called a
bannock, was baked and a small portion of it charred. The
bannock was then broken into small pieces and put in a bag.
The person who chose the burnt piece of bannock became the
sacrificial victim. Ross believes that Lindow Man was a
though, have pointed out that the victim selected during
Beltain was almost always burned in the bonfire. So how, if
Lindow Man was a Beltain victim, did he escape the fire and
find his way to the bog?
to Ross, the Celts considered the number three holy. They had
three gods: Taranis, the god of thunder; Esus, the god of the
underworld; and Teutates, the god of the tribe. Each required
a specific type of sacrifice. Ross explains:
required prisoners of war to be burnt alive in giant wicker
cages, while Esus was offered victims who were either hanged
from sacred trees or stabbed to death or both. Teutates,
however, took his sacrifices into a watery embrace in the
sacred wells and pools that always figured very strongly
among Celtic holy sites.
of sacrificing three individuals, the Celts sometimes
sacrificed one person to please all three gods. This could
have been the case with Lindow Man. First, he was sacrificed
to Taranis. Although normally involving fire, sacrifices to
Taranis were also made with the use of a weapon. In the case
of Lindow Man, the three blows to his skull, writes Ross, were
"delivered with the sudden awful force of a thunderbolt,
the mark of Taranis." Second, he was sacrificed to Esus
when he was strangled and his throat cut. Third, he was
sacrificed to Teutates when he was placed in the bog and
who was Lindow Man, and why was he sacrificed in such an
elaborate ceremony? Although victims might have been
sacrificed occasionally, they were not usually killed the way
Lindow Man was. Had it simply been the bad luck of selecting
the charred piece of bannock? Or was more involved?
concludes that he was either a Celtic priest, otherwise known
as a Druid, or a king. Because his hands were free from
calluses and his body had not previously been injured, he was
neither a laborer nor a warrior. He was clearly an important
man. not the type of person routinely sacrificed.
guesses that the invasion of the Romans in A.D. 43 may have
caused the Celts to take the dramatic step of sacrificing an
extremely important individual in their attempt to appease the
gods and thwart the Romans. In fact, she goes so far as to
place his death in A.D. 60, after the Romans had attempted to
wipe out all traces of the Celts and the Druids. She believes
that Lindow Man may even have chosen to die himself in order
"to stave off the Roman threat." Whether or not
Ross's speculations are correct, they provide an interesting
theory. They also show how much--and how little--scientists
can learn from a mummy's tummy.
resides on the second floor of the British Museum (in London)
in a fairly out-of-the-way location. For information
about his exhibit, click here.