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Was Denmark's "Tollund Man" a Victim of Ritual Sacrifice?

Updated May 16, 2024
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TV crime dramas love to show off the skills of forensic investigators, but real-life cases can prove even more fascinating. For example, Danish researchers have recently determined that the famous "Tollund Man" was probably a ritual sacrifice rather than an executed criminal – all because of what they found in the stomach of the 2,400-year-old bog body.

The naturally mummified body was discovered in a Danish bog in 1950. Although he had been hanged with an animal-hide rope (which was still around his neck), some experts were convinced that Tollund Man hadn't simply been executed. Due to the careful arrangement of his well-preserved body and face (eyes closed, with a faint smile), they thought he was the victim of human sacrifice.

A recent analysis of Tollund Man's stomach contents by a team at Denmark's Silkeborg Museum seems to lend credence to this theory. Traces of a barley-and-flax porridge (along with some fish) were found in his digestive tract, but that porridge also contained seeds of pale persicaria, a wild plant that is normally thrown away as a weed.

The fact that this so-called "threshing waste" was included in the porridge suggests that Tollund Man's last supper might have been some kind of ritual meal. But it remains a mystery whether these seeds were included simply to add nutritional value, or to shame him, or whether they were added in the hopes that by eating the unusual mixture before death, this human sacrifice could somehow influence his community's fate, such as averting famine or ensuring fertility.

Who was the Tollund Man?

  • Twelve years before Tollund Man was found, the body of "Elling Woman" was discovered in the same bog, though not nearly as well preserved.

  • Police at the scene in 1950 initially suspected that Tollund Man might be a recent murder victim because his body was in such good condition.

  • In life, Tollund Man would have been around 5 feet 3 inches tall (1.61 m). He is believed to have been between 30 and 40 years old at the time of his death.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
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