The Discovery of Lindow Man II (Pete Marsh)
- 1st August 1984 -
Sometimes a discovery takes place that changes our perception of History and puts people and/or events in a different perspective as well as forcing us to reconsider conventional wisdom. Very often these are pre-historic, before written records began, or early AD. The Roman Vindolanda tablets for example shed light on different aspects of Roman domestic life – and underpants!
Thus the discovery on August 1st 1984 of a corpse in a peat bog, in Lindow, near Wilmslow, Cheshire, shed new light on a relatively unknown period – the Iron Age. One of the joys of studying or teaching this period of history is that much of our understanding has to be deduced and interpreted, inferred and extrapolated. A new discovery can change everything.
The discovery of Lindow Man II was made by Andy Mould, a commercial peat cutter. These were not the first, or last, remains found. A year before part of a human skull was also discovered. It was thought to be that of a woman and made the local press. So fearful was he that they had discovered the remains of his missing wife, Peter Reyn-Bardt confessed to her murder. Little was he to know that the remains they found belonged to the Roman period of Britain. He was convicted of her murder. A woman’s skull has also been found there from the period 90-440AD. What interests us, however, is the body found by Mr Mould.
The acidic, oxygen free conditions in the peat bog meant that the hair, skin and internal organs were well preserved. The body was then freeze dried and now lives in a very carefully, climate controlled cabinet in the British Museum. Originally thought to be a murdered woman from the early 1970s, it turned out that, by carbon dating, the body goes back to the first century AD and, possibly, around the time of the Claudius’ Roman invasion of Britain (AD 43).
The body itself was not entirely complete. The lower abdomen and a leg are missing. Judging by the length of his upper arm bone he was between 5 feet 6 and 5 feet 8 inches in height, and quite stocky, weighing in around 10 stone, 60-65kg. He had a neatly trimmed beard and moustache and long sideburns. Apart from a case of worms, which he might not even have known about, and some osteoarthritis, he was in sound health. His teeth, too, were strong. The acidic soil had stripped off the enamel but there were no cavities at all. Archaeologists also found that a knife or scissors had recently trimmed his hair as the follicles were stepped. His nails were well manicured and his hands smooth suggesting that this person was a man with some social status, a member of the upper echelons of society.
Unusually for this period he was not buried with anything. In fact he was naked, except for a fur armband, and he had been placed face down in the bog. As his stomach had not decayed scientists could tell what he ate as his last meal – a snack of chaff and bran. With the use of electron spin resonance they could further tell that is was a griddle cake, cooked on a flat surface at a temperature of 200°c for half an hour. Thus the cake was slightly burnt. His stomach also contained a drink containing mistletoe pollen, notably sacred to the Druids, that probably tells us he died in March/April. He was between 20-25 years old when he died.
Unfortunately Pete met his death by violent means. He had been hit on the head twice, by a blunt instrument, had broken ribs, possibly been garrotted with a thong around his neck that had broken 2 vertebrae and then had a gash to the side of the head/neck area that had severed his jugular. The first of these injuries would not have killed him instantly and he probably lived for at least a couple of hours afterwards. A shard of his skull had been driven into his brain, possibly rendering him unconscious.
Some experts, including Anne Ross, an expert on Iron Age religion, claim that these are classic ritualistic killings with the threefold injuries – a blow to the head, strangling and bleeding. It is possible that he may have been an important member of a tribe and either volunteered or was chosen to die to protect his people from the Roman invaders. It is also possible that he was sacrificed to ensure a good harvest or winter. He could well have been one of the Druid priests who were all but wiped out by the Romans. Other bog discoveries around Europe show similar characteristics.
Others claim that he was simply clubbed to death, the thong was a necklace and the neck wound was a rupture post mortem. This does not seem to account for the broken vertebrae however. It also seems a remote place to have been mugged.
The discovery of Lindow Man led to a re-assessment of ‘bog bodies’ in Britain. It also helped stimulate investigation and awareness of this critical time in British history as well as ‘Flesh out the bones’ of human activity and appearance at this time. The reconstructed picture of him shows an Iron Age man staring out at us in a way that was not possible before this discovery.