Bog bodies are some of history’s most enigmatic murder victims: preserved in the peat bogs of northern Europe and Britain, their bodies can retain detailed facial expressions and reveal the methods by which they were dispatched some 2,000 years ago.
Tollund Man is perhaps the best known of these victims. Discovered in 1950 by peat diggers in north-central Denmark, the Iron Age man in a wool cap still bore, around his neck, the leather noose that was used to strangle him around 350 B.C.
But while the methods used to kill bog victims—usually blunt-force trauma, throat slashing, or suffocation—are readily apparent to archaeologists, the events that led up to their deaths remain hazy: Were these random murders or ceremonial killings? And if these were ritual sacrifices, how were these victims selected, and were they fed a special last meal or intoxicants to blunt the terror of their impending death?
Now, a new study published today in the journal Antiquity analyses in detail the last meal of Tollund Man, a meal that is remarkable simply because it was, well, unremarkable.
When Tollund Man was discovered 70 years ago, researchers examined his well-preserved stomach and intestinal tract and determined that the middle-aged man consumed his last meal 12 to 24 hours before his death.
Now, a scientific team led by Nina Nielsen, head of research at Denmark’s Silkeborg Museum, the modern “home” of Tollund Man, have revisited his gut contents with new technology. In the most comprehensive gut analysis of a bog body ever conducted, researchers recovered plant macrofossils, pollen, and other indicators to reveal microscopic evidence of food and drink.