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The Last Meal

Food in the iron age

What people ate
From "People of the Iron Age" 4.39 minutes - Broadband.
© Lejre Experimental Centre

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The Last Meal

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The Tollund Man's last meal was some kind of porridge or gruel. Extra large picture.
More illustrations. © Niels Bach
Dinner is served!
Dinner is served! Big picture
In connection with the examinations in 1950, the forensic examiner removed the Tollund Man's stomach and intestines. Most of his last meal had passed through the stomach and moved into the small intestine. Based on these facts the examiners were able to conclude that he must have eaten somewhere in between 12 and 24 hours before he died.

The stomach contents were passed on to a specialist in plants from the Iron Age to be examined closely. Seen through a microscope it was clear that there were no traces of meat, fish or fresh fruit in the contents - only traces of grain and seeds could be found.

The specialist found numerous traces of barley and flaxseed, false flax and knotgrass. The last two grow in the wild, whereas barley and flaxseed were cultivated in fields. Traces of other weed seeds were also found in the contents - some of them had probably been gathered, whereas others may have been mixed in by happenstance. The specialist was able to recognize approximately 40 different kinds of seeds.

To sum it up, the meal consisted of some kind of porridge or gruel made primarily of grain and seeds - flaxseed had probably been added in order to increase the amount of fat in the meal. As already mentioned, the contents showed no traces of meat.

Other last meals have been discovered in other bog bodies, for example in a body discovered in Borremose in Himmerland (the northern part of Jutland) and in Grauballe Man. The contents of the meals are very similar to the Tollund Man's, so there is no doubt that it must have been a common meal in the iron age.

Grinded grain
Grinded grain. Big picture
At an excavation close to Aalborg the archaeologists discovered a jar with a similar meal in the storeroom of a house from the Iron Age - you only had to add water and put it over the fire and then you could have eaten it with great pleasure 2,000 years ago.

The fact that the contents of the meal had no traces of meat or fresh fruit is a strong indication that these foods were not available. It is very likely that the meal was eaten in the wintertime or in the early spring - that also corresponds with the fact that the temperature must be fairly low in order for a human being to turn into a well-preserved bog body.

We know from other excavations that people did indeed eat meat in the iron age. But the livestock was probably not very big, so until the end of summer when the lambs and calves were big enough to be slaughtered, people rarely ate meat.

 Related Stories
Who discovered the Tollund Man?

Who discovered the Tollund Man?
The two brothers, Viggo and Emil Højgaard, came from Tollund...

Transporting the Tollund Man
In order to provide the best possible protection of the Tollund Man a big box was built around him...

The bog where the Tollund Man was discovered
Bjældskovdal is a bog area west of Silkeborg...

Why did he have to die?
Was the Tollund Man a criminal? Was he hanged in order to get rid of him...?

 More Info
What did people eat at the time of the Tollund Man?
The cooking was done by the fireplace in the Iron Age house...

How were the stomach contents examined?
The stomach and intestines were removed by the forensic examiner in order to be examined closely...

Barley. Big picture

Flaxseed. Big picture

Knotgrass. Big picture

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