Originally Published May 2009.
In 1984 a preserved body found at Lindow Moss (15 km south of Manchester) re-awoke an interest in early Celtic religion and possible sacrifices. The top half of a male body was preserved so well that police feared it was a murder murder victim, but radio carbon dating indicated that the body was almost 2000 years old. Similar to the “bog bodies” found in Ireland, Denmark and Germany, it had been encased in a layer of waterlogged oxygen-free vegetation which preserved much of the soft tissues including skin, hair and fingernails.
Lindow Man’s (aka “Pete Marsh”) official name is now Lindow II as there are other finds from the area. Lindow I refers to two human skulls, Lindow III to fragments of a headless body, and Lindow IV to the upper thigh of an adult male (possibly the leg of Lindow II -I’ve seen no indication that a DNA comparison has yet been performed, but peat bogs such as Lindow Moss are generally poor for such a purpose, and it is unlikely that DNA could be recovered from Lindow Man). He was the first such body found in Britain during modern times, and comes from the end of the Iron Age, or about the 1st century CE. Removal of the peat surrounding him revealed a healthy, well-fed, bearded man. He was naked, except for a fox fur band around his left arm, and a cord around his throat. About his mid-twenties when he died, he displayed no earlier signs of disease or injury, save for evidence of intestinal worms. An examination of his fingernails showed no evidence that he was a laborer or agricultural worker, therefore suggesting he may have been a man of wealth or status.
The cause of death appeared to be threefold. He was struck two, or three times in the back of the head with something like a narrow-bladed ax. The nature of the wound was that it was not immediately fatal, although death probably would have followed in a matter of hours. Then the cord that was around his neck was used to strangle him -probably by twisting a stick under it until it was so tight that it actually broke his neck. He was probably dead at this point, but his throat was then also cut before he was deposited in the bog.
Due to the complexity of his death, the theory is that Lindow II represents a human sacrifice, the initial blow possibly delivered to minimize suffering by rendering him unconscious. One scholar has even suggested that the triple-death was intended to affect three gods -the different modes of death were meant to influence different gods. Based on he contents of his stomach and intestines, his last meal and probable diet had been mostly of cereals. An intriguing detail was the presence in his stomach of a few grains of mistletoe pollen. No fragments of the plant were in evidence, so it has been speculated that a sprig of the plant, which is said to have been ritually important to the Druids) had been dipped in his drink, or ceremonially brushed on his last meal.
After the scientific examinations were complete, the body was preserved through a freeze-drying process and it placed in a custom-made, temperature and moisture controlled, display case. He can normally be viewed at the British Museum, however until April 2009 he has been on display in the Manchester Museum. (A reconstruction of Lindow Man’s probable appearance in life.
In time, examination of trace elements in his hair and fingernails may reveal other interesting tidbits about his life, but according to the British Museum: “research has allowed us to learn more about this person, his health, his appearance and how he might have died than any other prehistoric person found in Britain.”