My Story about the Tollund Man
By curator Christian Fischer, Silkeborg Museum
When I gather all the information various experts have given us about the Tollund Man, I picture that the last day of his life must have gone by approximately as follows:
One winter's day - or maybe it was an early spring day - approximately 2,300 years ago a man sits down to eat a meal of gruel or some kind of porridge. It's made of grains and seeds which have been gathered and grinded in a rubbing stone. The man is approximately 30 years old - he doesn't appear to be sick, at least you can't tell if he is by his appearance. Only human pin worms seem to have bothered him every now and then. Approximately 12 hours after he is done eating he he is hanged - probably as a sacrifice to the gods. It's all done without use of forces because afterwards there are no signs that his hands and feet were tied. The hanging is done without a "free fall" because the cervical vertebras were undamaged.
When he is dead, the bereaved cuts the leather rope, which had been used for the hanging, and carry him to the bog by walking on a pathway made of wooden planks. An excavation in the peat bog has been drained of water, and he is placed in a sleeping position. His face must show signs of the hanging - the eyes must have been protruding, the mouth open and the tongue must have stuck out. But the bereaved make sure that his face looks so peaceful that you might think he is asleep. Shortly after they have placed him in the excavation in the peat bog, the bog water slowly rises and covers him, and the very next summer the plants of the bog start to cover him. More than 2,300 years later the finders Viggo and Emil Højgaard's peat spades dig their way to him.
We don't know what god he was a sacrifice to. But the existence of bog bodies in Denmark and the fact that they appear in the areas where people used to dig for peat in the Iron age leads us to speculate that the bodies are actual sacrifices of thanks to the god made in return for the peat that was dug from the god's bog.
When somebody died in the village, he or she was not buried in the same way as the Tollund Mand. They were cremated in a funeral pyre and the bones were put in an urn which was lowered into a grave. The urn was often covered with stones and encircled with a ring of stones which was customary in in Central Jutland, for example. Other parts of Denmark had different burial customs but they all had one thing in common - the use of cremation was universal at the time - except for the small group of people who were sacrificed and placed in the bogs without being cremated. However, a likely explanation is probably that since these people were given as a sacrifice to the god of the bog, it would be impolite to offer him a pot of burnt bones - no, the god was to have a complete human being who could truly serve as his servant.