Lindow Man: Murder Victim or Human Sacrifice?

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Lindow Man's body was crushed by the weight of the peat around it, leading to his distorted remains.

Lindow Man’s body was crushed by the weight of the peat around it, leading to his distorted remains. Image by skinnylawyer.

In August 1984, workmen discovered Britain’s best-preserved bog body in Lindow Moss, Cheshire.  Initially, experts believed him to be the remains of a murdered woman; on examination, however, they found the remains to be much older, dating to the Iron age.

Modern researchers have nicknamed him ‘Pete Marsh’ or Lindow Man,’ and we know his health, social status, last meal and cause of death. But why he died is a matter of debate. Was Lindow Man a Celtic ritual sacrifice? Or is he an Iron Age Murder victim?

What Did Lindow Man look like?

Lindow man’s body was incomplete with his lower abdomen and one leg missing, but archaeologists were able to easily establish his sex as male from the fact that he had a neatly trimmed beard, moustache and sideburns.

He was also a well-built individual. By looking at the length of his upper arm bone, experts established his height as between 5 feet 6 inches to 5 feet 8 inches, making him taller than most men of his time. They calculated his weight as being 60-65 kg (132 pounds or nearly 10 stone).

Lindow Man’s Lifestyle

Despite showing signs of slight osteoarthritis, Lindow Man was in good health for the period in which he lived. His teeth, although stripped of enamel by the acid environment of the peat, were healthy with no cavities. He was suffering from a severe case of whip worm and maw worm, but would probably not have noticed.


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In fact, Lindow Man’s overall standard of living appeared to have been good, if his personal grooming was anything to go by. Electron microscopy revealed that his hair follicles were stepped; leading archaeologists to conclude that his hair was trimmed not long before his death with scissors or shears. These were not common items at the time, and this coupled with his manicured nails and smooth hands led to speculation that Lindow Man had been a high ranking member of society.

Yet despite these indications of privelege, Lindow man was buried with no trappings of rank. Rather, he was naked except for a fox fur armband.

Lindow Man’s Last Meal

Lindow Man’s stomach had not decayed, allowing for the analysis of his partly digested stomach contents. By examining them under a microscope, it was discovered that his final meal was little more than a snack composed of chaff and bran. Electron spin resonance was used to establish the maximum cooking temperature of the meal, how long it was cooked for and the method used. It seemed that Lindow man had eaten a type of griddle cake, cooked on a flat surface at 200 degrees centigrade for about half an hour. During this process, it had burnt.

The griddle cake was not all that was found in the stomach. Traces of small quantities of mistletoe pollen present. While insignificant in itself, it  does suggest  Lindow Man  died in around March or April..

Lindow Man’s Age

Lindow Man was between 20-25 when he died. But his exact date of death is harder to pinpoint. While  the peat around the body was radiocarbon  dated to around 300BC, the body itself was much younger, dating  to 2BC and 119AD.

Archaeologist P C Buckland believes  that the discrepancy in the dates, plus the fact that Lindow man was found in layers of peat whose straigraphy was undisturbed, suggests his body was deposited in an established pool on the moss.  However, geographer K E Barber believes that the peat could have been peeled back and replaced over the body.

Lindow Man’s Death

Lindow Man’s end was violent. He was initially hit on the head twice. One blow-a V shaped wound made by a blunt object was hard enough to drive a splinter of bone into the brain which would have rendered him unconscious if it did not kill him outright. One of his ribs was broken, suggesting he may have been kneed in the back. A 1.5 mm thick thong of animal sinew was found around his neck. This is assumed to be a garrotte used to strangle him as two of his neck vertebrae were broken. Finally, there was a gash on the side of his neck that would have severed the jugular. Probably post mortem, it is assumed this was a deliberate wound. The body was then dropped face down into a bog pool.

Did Lindow Man die in a misguided attempt to protect his people from the Roman Invasion?

Did Lindow Man die in a misguided attempt to protect his people from the Roman Invasion? Image by John Cassell.

Murder Victim, Criminal or Sacrifice?

Many experts believe the wounds to Lindow Man’s body suggest a complex, ritual death. The blow to the head, followed by garrotting and finally bleeding suggest a ceremonial ‘Triple Death’ according to Anne Ross, an expert on Iron Age religion.

What would be the reason for such a death? Lindow Man’s body is possibly contemporary with the Claudian Roman invasion of Britain so he may have been an important member of a local tribe who was chosen or volunteered to die to protect his people from the invaders. Alternatively, Or his death may have been instigated in part to ensure a good harvest or safe winter.

No one can know for certain. But there is a growing belief amongst some academics that Lindow Man was not sacrificed at all. R C Connolly, senior lecturer in physical anthropology at the University of Liverpool believes Lindow man was simply   ‘clubbed to death’ and dismisses the interpretation of ritual features as an ‘archaeological fettish’. To Connolly  the sinew about the neck was the remains of a necklace rather than a garrot and that the neck wound in fact post mortem rupturing rather than a slash.

Was something sinister afoot on Lindow Moss during the late Iron Age-early Roman Era?

Was something sinister afoot on Lindow Moss during the late Iron Age-early Roman Era? Image by Roger Gittins.

 

Lindow Moss: A Grisly Place to Die.

But as Neil Faulkner notes in his article for Current Archaeology “Who killed Lindow Man ?” ‘Lindow Man is not an isolated case, but one of a type.’ Bog bodies from throughout europe all have similar characteristics: violent deaths typificed by strangulation, head wounds and naked burial in marginal, watery places- places of ritual significance to Iron Age peoples.

 Perhaps in the case of Lindow man, the deciding factor is Lindow Moss itself.   As   Jody Joy, Curator of Euopean iron age collections at the British Museum stated: stated:   ‘Lindow was a very remote place in those days, an unlikely place for an ambush or a murder”.

Yet this very remote place has yielded a surprising number of bodies all dating to the late Iron Age, early Roman Era: a woman’s skull in 1983 dating to between 90-440AD and after Lindow man, further male remains dating between 30BC and 225AD.

The debate on the reason for Lindow man’s death will no doubt continue. But with a range of bodies dating to the same narrow time band, it does seem something sinister was afoot on Lindow   during this transitional period of British history.

Resources

The British Museum. Lindow Man. Accessed October 31, 2013.

Renfrew, Colin and Bahn, Paul. Archaeology: Theories, Methods and Practice. (1994). Thames and Hudson.

Barber, K. E., Buckland, P.C. Two Views on Peat Stratigraphy and the Age of the Lindow Bodies. B: Peat Stratigraphy and the Lindow Bog Body: a Reconsideration of the Evidence. (1995). Bog Bodies: New Discoveries and New Perspectives. British Museum Press.

Brothwell, Don. The Bogman and the Archaeology of People. (1986). British Museum Publications.

Connolly, R.C. Lindow Man: Britain’s prehistoric bog body. (1985). Anthropology Today: Royal Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland.

Faulkner, N. Who Killed Lindow Man? (2009). Current Archaeology 233.

Joy, Jody. Lindow Man. (2009). British Museum Press.

Turner, Rick C., Scaife, R. G. Bog Bodies: New Discoveries and New Perspectives. (1995). British Museum Press.

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© Copyright 2013 Natasha Sheldon, All rights Reserved. Written For: Decoded Past

Comments

  1. Sylvan says

    Seems like a regular murder to me. Bogs are natural dumping grounds, still happens to this day. I think archaeologists project ritual onto a lot of circumstances that never called for the gods. We’ll have a better understanding of ourselves if we scrub a bit of the unsubstantiated magicmaking.

  2. Marly says

    Maybe he was abducted, taken to a remote place where the murder/robbery would not be interrupted, stripped of his garments and jewelry (as he was clearly wealthy for the times) ie he was robbed, then murdered (maybe he was murdered before or after the robbery) then his body dumped in the remote bog where it would not be discovered (hence less chance of the people who committed the murder and robbery being discovered) … A bog seems like an apt place to hide a murder victim, especially a remote bog where the body is not likely to be discovered. I do understand that ritualistic killings happened, but I feel many of the bog bodies discovered are your run-of-the-mill murder victims who have fancy deaths attributed to them by over-enthusiastic ”experts”.

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