Last meal of ancient human sacrifice victim ‘Tollund Man’ revealed in exquisite detail

Before he was hanged, Tollund Man ate porridge and fish.

The well-preserved head of Tollund Man, who lived about 2,400 years ago. (Image credit: Photo by A. Mikkelsen; Nielsen, NH et al (2021); Antiquity Publications Ltd.)

Shortly before his violent death in 400 B.C., a man — whose remains are known as Denmark’s famous bog body “Tollund Man” — ate a meal of porridge and fish, a new study finds.

Tollund Man also had several parasitic infections from whipworms and mawworms, as well as the first reported case of tapeworm ever found in an ancient body preserved in a bog, said the researchers, who made the finding by studying a piece of Tollund Man’s colon.

“We have been able to reconstruct the last meal of Tollund Man in such great detail that you can actually recreate the meal,” study lead researcher Nina Nielsen, an archaeologist and head of research at Museum Silkeborg in Denmark, told Live Science. “That’s quite fascinating, because you can get so close to what actually happened 2,400 years ago.”

The ancient man’s remains were found in 1950 by a family from the nearby village of Tollund while they were digging for fuel in a peat bog. His body — and the rope tied around his neck — were so well preserved, the family thought he was a recent murder victim, prompting them to call the police, according to Museum Silkeborg.

But it soon became apparent that the Tollund Man had lived long ago and that the  low-oxygen environment of the peat bog had preserved his remains. Over the years, studies have found that he died between 405 B.C. and 380 B.C., at the beginning of the Danish early Iron Age, and that he was between 30 and 40 years old when he died in a possible human ritual sacrifice. Tollund Man had been hanged and placed in a sleeping position in a peat pit — an “extraordinary treatment” given that most dead people from that time and place were cremated and buried on dry land, the researchers wrote in the study.

A 1951 study on Tollund Man’s gut found that he chowed down on porridge for his last meal. However, techniques to analyze the gut have improved since then, so a team of researchers took another look at Tollund Man’s last few bites.

Clockwise from top left: A map showing where Tollund Man was found; a photo of Tollund Man’s colon; the jars holding Tollund Man’s colon; a photo of Tollund Man’s head. (Image credit: N.H. Nielsen, Museum Silkeborg; Danish Geodata Agency; Danish National Museum; A. Mikkelsen; Nielsen, NH et al (2021); Antiquity Publications Ltd.)

 

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