Archaeology Magazine Archive

A publication of the Archaeological Institute of America

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Tollund man (Carlos Muñoz-Yagüe)

It was as though the dead man's soul had for a moment returned from another world, through a gate in the western sky," wrote Danish archaeologist P. V. Glob in his 1969 book The Bog People: Iron Age Man Preserved. It's a surprisingly poetic turn for a scientist, but the 2,000-year-old Tollund Man has that effect on people. He wore nothing but a leather belt, a sheepskin cap, and, around his neck, a two-strand leather rope—the apparent cause of death. Other bog bodies had been found before, but there was something different about this one. He was, according to Karin Sanders, a Scandinavian literature professor at Berkeley and author of Bodies in the Bog and the Archaeological Imagination, "pleasing to the eye." He seems to be in a state of gentle repose; if he was sacrificed, it appears to have been done gently and with respect. Among bog bodies, Tollund Man became a superstar. Glob was one of the first archaeologists to examine him, and his poetic account of the discovery played no small part in the exceptional afterlife Tollund Man has had in art and literature, including as the subject of a poem by Irish Nobel Laureate Seamus Heaney, who saw in him the spitting image of his great-uncle Hughie.

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