Peat cutters, cutting peat in Lindow Moss, a peat bog near Manchester Airport, Cheshire, England, in summer 1984 had a huge surprise when they discovered a body. They immediately called the police, who originally thought that the body was a modern murder victim. The peat cutters must have been startled to eventually find that the body they discovered was more than 2,300 years old. The male body was preserved in the peat for over two millennia and has become known as “Lindow Man." Lindow Man is what archaeologists call a “bog body."
In Europe, bog bodies date from the early Iron Age around 500 BC to around 400 AD. Bog bodies share many characteristics, and archaeologists believe that they were sacrifices in an ancient religious belief which was common throughout the continent. Bog bodies are important because they are so well-preserved and help modern scientists and archaeologists to understand Iron Age life, because clothing, stomach contents and clues to ancient environments would normally rot away but are excellently preserved in peat, which excludes oxygen.
Lindow Man is important because his discovery advanced archaeological, scientific and anthropological understanding and methods. When found in 1984, Lindow Man was missing his legs and back, but some of his missing parts were found in the years following his discovery. Although many questions about Lindow Man have been answered, many still remain.
Mr. R. C. Turner, the Cheshire County Archaeologist, and Dr. Joan Turner, Department of Prehistoric Archaeology at Liverpool University, and the Serious Crime Squad of Cheshire Constabulary oversaw the initial excavation and conservation of Lindow Man. Dr. A. R. Williams, Consultant Pathologist, Macclesfield District General Hospital, and Dr. Colin Shell conducted the initial medical testing and pathological examinations.
Anthropologists, archaeologists and other experts have answered some questions. Lindow Man was approximately 25 when he died his macabre death. He stood around 1.65 metres or five feet five inches tall and he was well-built and had impressive muscles. Experts using scanning electron microscope technology determined that his hair, sideburns and moustache were neatly trimmed using a sharp instrument, as were his fingernails. Lindow Man suffered from round and whip worm infestation and had recently eaten wheat, barley and vegetables, as well as possibly bread, oatcakes or similar food. His teeth, although the dentin was affected by the acidity of the peat in which he was found, although worn, showed little sign of decay. He wore a strip of animal skin high on his left arm and a necklace of twisted sinew around his neck, which may or may not have carried a charm or amulet, but apart from these ornaments he was naked. His body lay for some time face down in a puddle or pool before being covered by the peat. There is evidence that the peat bog was spreading at the time that Lindow Man died.
There were no signs of habitation or regular human activity in the surrounding area. The nearest archaeological sites of a similar age to Lindow Man are around thirty miles from where he was found. However, it is likely that the area was being cultivated at the time Lindow Man died. Professor Frank Oldfield and researchers at Liverpool University found evidence of human cultivation in the peat above, below and around the body, barley and wheat pollen grains, weeds, disturbed ground and charcoal burning.
Lindow Man had certain gruesome injuries that could not have been self-inflicted. Someone hit the top of his head with a blunt instrument, a club or piece of wood, heavily enough to fracture his skull and leave bone fragments inside the skull cavity. Specialised radiography and CT techniques showed another injury to the back of Lindow Man’s neck caused by a similar blunt instrument blow causing multiple fractures. There is also a split on the right side of the neck that was not, as many describe, an ear to ear gash. The head injury could have been caused post mortem or before death as the neck injuries would most certainly have caused death. Experts are unsure as to whether he died due to a religious sacrifice, battle, execution or casual murder. His injuries were certainly not accidental. Although archaeologists always find ritual sacrifice and execution attractive explanations for such bog body deaths, however, his body was not buried, pegged down or dismembered as many Danish bog bodies were, but just left lying in a pond.
Some archaeologists have suggested that the leather thong around Lindow Man’s neck was a garotte used to strangle him ritually, but there is no damage to the cartilage in the throat consistent with strangulation. The damage to the neck vertebrae could not have been caused by the thong, and there is no evidence of tension or any other evidence that the thong was used to strangle Lindow Man. The fact that the thong dug into the neck in some place is due to the swelling caused by the body’s lying in water for some time post mortem.
Radio carbon dating techniques suggest that Lindow Man died 500 BC, plus or minus 200 years, thus he may have died at any time from 700 BC – 300 BC, suggesting that he was a Celt. His blood group was O, one of the most common blood groups in the United Kingdom today.
Modern scientific techniques may reveal more about Lindow Man, but it unlikely that anyone will ever know just what Lindow Man was doing on the bog that day or how he really died. However, Lindow Man tells much about his time and his world and deepens understanding of early British History. Lindow Man now resides in the British Museum in London.