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Grauballe Man

Grauballe Man (Source)

            Grauballe Man is an Iron Age bog body that was discovered in 1952 when peat cutters dug into Nebelgard Fen, a bog closely located to the village of Grauballe in Jutland, Denmark (McLean 2009: 300). Grauballe man's body was found two years after the discovery of Tollund Man in a nearby bog. (Coles and Coles 1989: 181). Upon the initial discovery of Grauballe man there was debate as to whether his remains were from a local peat cutter, Red Christian that disappeared in the same area around 1887. Red Christian was supposedly fond of alcohol and people assumed he fell into a bog and drowned because two drunk Cheshire men at Lindow moss in 1853 suffered the same fate (Giles 2009: 76). Upon completion of Carbon 14 dating researchers realized that Grauballe Man died around 310 BC, possibly during winter because of the lack of berries and fresh herbs in his last meal, preserved in his stomach (McLean 2009: 303).

            When Grauballe Man was exhumed he appeared naked and was laying on his chest with his head and upper body facing north, his left leg extended and right arm and right leg bent.  Grauballe man was identified as being around 30 years old at the time of his death, 1.75 m tall and he still had hair about 5cm long and stubble on his chin (Coles and Coles 1989: 181). While inspecting his body, the Maesgard Museum found a deep cut across Grauballe man's throat from ear to ear, and suggested that this was his cause of death. The body was quite compressed and flat upon its discovery which archaeologists believe was due to layers of peat pressing on it over the centuries (McLean 2009: 302). Initial x-rays done on the body showed fractures on his skull and right tibia which were initially interpreted as contributing to his death. In 2000 Grauballe Man was re-examined and further x-rays and 1362 ct cross sections were taken of the body. The new scans included much more detailed cross sections of Grauballe Man than previous technology provided. The results showed new evidence that he was missing four lumbar vertebrae, and the fracture in his skull that was previously interpreted as a wound is now shown to be from pressure in the bog, or from the time of removal from the bog when a spectator accidentally stood on his head (2009: 303).

Grauballe Man's throat wound (Source)

            When archaeologists performed an autopsy on Grauballe Man they discovered that his stomach and intestines were intact and removed them for further analysis (McLean 2009: 303). Upon dissection of his stomach, archeologists found that Grauballe Man had eaten porridge or gruel made from corn, seeds from over 60 different herbs, and grasses with traces of the poisonous funghi ergot right before his death (McLean 2009: 303). Grauballe Man's fingerprints were also examined, and it was concluded that due to the detail and preservation of his fingerprints it was unlikely that he performed manual labour. The presence of ergot also suggests that if he were sick from this fungi, he would most likely be incapable of work (Parker Pearson 1986: 16).

            Giles suggests an interpretation of these type of bog bodies as distinguished by a type of deformity or abnormality, and that physical differences created enough of a differentiation from the rest of the community that they could have been chosen as scapegoats at a time of communal crisis (Giles 2009: 86). Since Grauballe Man showed the presence of ergot in his system, it would have induced painful symptoms that are historically known as St. Anthony's Fire. This fungus causes convulsions and a burning sensation in the mouth, hands, and feet. It is suggested that this fungus could have been deliberately administered to induce hallucinations and a coma before his death, but it is more likely that he ingested the fungus through natural means. If he was showing signs of ergot madness it is possible that his bizarre behaviour was interpreted as being possessed by an evil force. This behaviour could have caused the community to put him to death and deposit him in a bog far from the township  (2009: 86).

            Based on the deep throat wound and presence of poisonous funghi in his stomach that causes madness, the evidence suggests that the reason for Grauballe Man's death was due to human sacrifice or public execution of social outcasts, but it is impossible to attach a single explanation for the cause of his death (Parker Pearson 1986: 17).

Grauballe Man as found on site (Source)