The Ill-fated Elling Woman: An Iron Age Sacrifice to Appease the Gods?

The Ill-fated Elling Woman: An Iron Age Sacrifice to Appease the Gods?


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Elling Woman is the name given to a well-preserved bog body that was discovered in Denmark during the first half of the 20th century. By then, this type of remains had already been found in Denmark’s bogs for at least a century. For instance, one bog body, unearthed in 1835, was thought to have belonged to a legendary Viking queen from the 8th century AD by the name of Gundhilde. Subsequent research on bog bodies, however, have shown that this practice had existed at an earlier period of time. In the case of Elling Woman, for example, it was found that she had lived during the Iron Age of northwestern Europe.

Discovering the Elling Woman

Elling Woman was discovered in 1938, when a farmer by the name of Jens Zakariassen was in the process of digging peat. This occurred in a pit bog in Bjældskovdal, a bog area which lies to the west of the city of Silkeborg, in the central part of Denmark.

The Upper body of the Elling Woman. ( CC BY-SA 3.0 )

At least two other bog bodies have been found in this area, one having been discovered in 1927 (which was reburied when the peat bank collapsed over it), and another being the famous Tollund Man, which was discovered 12 years after Elling Woman was found, and separated from her by a distance of less than 100 meters (328 ft.).

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Tollund Man on display at Silkeborg Museum. ( CC BY-SA 3.0 )

Initially, the farmer thought that he had found the remains of an animal that had drowned in the bog. He only realized that these were human remains when he noticed the woolen belt around the body’s waist. As he recognized that this may be of archaeological importance, he contacted the National Museum of Denmark. Subsequently, the body was removed from the bog, and was transported to Copenhagen to be analyzed.

Beginning to Decipher the Elling Woman’s Past

With the level of technology at that time, there was not very much that could be done to study Elling Woman. Nonetheless, it was observed that whilst the back of this bog body was well-preserved, its front was not, which made it difficult to identify whether the body belonged to a male or female. Apart from that, the body was found to have been dressed in a skin cloak, and a blanket / cloak of cowhide was wrapped around her legs. Furthermore, the body’s hairstyle, which was a long pigtail formed by an intricate pattern of plaiting, and tied into a knot, was noted. A skin rope was also found with the body. Elling Woman was then kept in a storage room in the museum.

The Elling Woman’s hairstyle

New Details on the Elling Woman Emerge

It was only later, during the 1970s, that more information was extracted from Elling Woman, thanks to technological advancement. For example, the sex of the body was determined using x-ray and examination by a forensic dentist. It was also determined that Elling Woman was about 25 years old at the time of her death. Radio carbon dating also suggested that Elling Woman lived during the Iron Age of northwestern Europe, between the 4th and 2nd centuries BC.

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The Elling Woman on display at the Silkeborg Museum, along with the skin rope found with her body. ( Diverting Journeys )

Based on the skin rope that was found with her, it has been established that Elling Woman was hanged to death. This rope has a sliding knot, which made it suitable for hanging. In addition, Elling Woman’s neck has got a furrow left from the hanging, further supporting this point of view. Whilst some scholars have suggested that bog bodies belonged to executed criminals, others are more inclined to regard them as evidence of human sacrifice. In the case of Elling Woman, it is possible that she was living in an age when the climate was experiencing unusual changes. This would have had a negative impact on the community she was living in, and they may have decided to offer her as a sacrifice to the gods in the hopes of appeasing them.

In more recent times, women around the world have taken an interest in the mystery of the Elling Woman and also found inspiration in her Iron Age hairstyle. Videos and tutorials on how to recreate her ancient hairstyle can be found across the internet.

Reconstruction of hairstyle and skin cape of the bog body Elling Woman near Silkeborg, Denmark. (Chris Wenzel/ CC BY SA 3.0 )


Europe’s Famed Bog Bodies Are Starting to Reveal Their Secrets

There have been findings of “bog bones” in north – western continental Europe and Britain since at least the 18th century-human remains that have been preserved in the anoxic climate of bogs. Such specimens are very well preserved, with hair , skin, and clothes that are often maintained for centuries.

Bog bodies offer a unique glimpse of ancient societies, but they also pose several questions that are often related to how they ended up in their odd burial place. Did they end up in bogs as human sacrifices? As punishment for criminal behavior? Or perhaps by unfortunate accident? Each of their stories is uniquely mysterious.

The Windeby Bog Bodies – Star-Crossed Lovers? Criminals? Or Strangers?

A photo of Windeby I

Windeby I, previously known as the ‘ Windeby Girl, ‘ is a bog body discovered in a peat bog located in Windeby Germany city. It was found in 1952, when local people cut the peat from a bog. Unfortunately, the machinery used for the peat cutting had already severed one of the body’s legs, one of its feet, and one of its hands.

At first, the bog body was named ‘ Windeby Girl ‘ because it was believed that because of its small frame it belonged to a 14-year – old womandue to its slight frame. There were no grave goods found with the body apart from a woolen band covering the eyes and a collar around the neck.

For the former, it has been suggested that it had either been used to cover the corpse’s eyes after death, or to hold the hair back, in which case the band would have slipped down over the eyes due to the shrinkage of the body. Later, another bog body was unearthed close to where Windeby I was found. This time, it belonged to a middle-aged man who had been strangled with a hazel branch, and was then placed in the bog on a stake.

According to the Roman historian Tacitus, the Germanic tribes that lived beyond the Rhine had the custom of punishing wrong-doers by having their executed bodies staked in bogs. Therefore, it was thought that the two bog bodies belonged to an adulterous couple who were caught and punished.

However, there are some problems with this belief. Firstly, Tacitus’ information was biased and often secondhand. And second, the Windeby I bog body displayed no signs of trauma, as one would expect if the person had been executed. Instead, the remains suggest that the person had suffered from repeated bouts of illness or malnutrition, which finally resulted in death.

In 2007 the remains of the ‘Windeby Girl’ we re-examined and DNA analysis suggested that it is more likely that the body belonged to a male. And radiocarbon dating of the two bodies from Windeby revealed that the older so-called male lover was in fact 300 years older than Windeby I. Today, both the Windeby bog bodies (along with another bog body, a headless body , and a bodiless head), are housed in the Landesmuseum in Schleswig-Holstein, Germany.

The Puzzling Grauballe Man

The face of the bog body known as Grauballe man.

Grauballe Man is the name given to a bog body that was discovered in Denmark in 1952. This bog body was found by a group of peat cutters working in the Nebelgaard Bog near the village of Grauballe in Denmark. When Grauballe Man was discovered, a quick visual examination at the site revealed that he was completely naked and that he had no belongings with him. His strikingly red hair was also noted. This, however, was not the natural color of Grauballe Man’s hair when he lived, but the result of his immersion in the bog.

Further examination at the museum revealed that he was about 30 years old at the time of his death, was 5 feet, 9 inches (1.75 meters) tall, and his hands and fingers were smooth and showed no signs of manual labor. Radiocarbon dating showed that Grauballe Man lived at some point in time between 310 and 55 BC during the Germanic Iron Age.

When researchers examined Grauballe Man’s stomach contents, they found his last meal was a porridge made of corn, seeds from 60 different herbs, and grasses containing traces of a poisonous fungus called ergot . The fungus probably made Grauballe Man sick and incapable of work.

It likely caused painful symptoms, including convulsions, hallucinations, and burning sensations for the mouth, feet, and hands. It is possible that he was regarded by his neighbors as being possessed by an evil spirit , which could have led eventually to his execution and deposition in a bog. Grauballe Man was killed by having his throat slit.

It is also possible that he was a criminal who was punished by death or that he was a sacrificial victim . These hypotheses find support in the writings of the Roman historian Tacitus, though the lack of manual labor done by Grauballe Man makes the second hypothesis more plausible.

Today, Grauballe Man is housed in the Moesgaard Museum in Aarhus and is one of its main attractions . He is exhibited in a room protected from light and temperature changes, so as to maintain his excellent state of preservation . Moreover, the room was designed in such a way as to allow visitors to experience how it is like to be in a peat bog.

The Ill-fated Elling Woman

The Upper body of the Elling Woman.

Elling Woman is the name given to a well-preserved bog body that was discovered in Bjældskovdal bog, near Silkeborg in Denmark in 1938 when a farmer was digging peat. Initially, the farmer thought that he had found the remains of an animal that had drowned in the bog. He only realized that these were human remains when he noticed the woolen belt around the body’s waist.

While the back of this bog body was well-preserved, its front was not. In the 1970s it was determined that the body was of a woman aged about 25 years old at the time of her death. Radiocarbon dating suggests that Elling Woman lived during the Iron Age of northwestern Europe, between the 4th and 2nd centuries BC.

The body was dressed in a skin cloak, and a blanket/cloak of cowhide was wrapped around her legs. Furthermore, the body’s hairstyle, which was a long pigtail formed by an intricate pattern of plaiting, tied into a knot, was noted and has inspired many modern re-creations. A skin rope was also found with the body, which suggests Elling Woman was hanged to death .

The rope has a sliding knot, which made it suitable for hanging. In addition, Elling Woman’s neck has a furrow left from her cause of death. Scholars are uncertain if she was a criminal or a sacrificial victim.

Who Bludgeoned the Bocksten Man to Death and Why?

Bocksten Man.

Around 700 years ago, a young man now known as ‘Bocksten Man’ was struck three times on the head, then tossed into a peat bog and impaled with three wooden poles to prevent his body rising to the surface. His body was discovered in a peat bog in Bocksten in Sweden in 1936.

Studies conducted on Bocksten Man over the decades have revealed some interesting information about this young man. Based on his attire – a tunic/cote, a mantle/cloak, a hood, woolen hose, and leather shoes – which were relatively well-preserved due to the waterlogged condition of the bog, it was concluded that Bocksten Man lived in the 14th century. This clothing suggests that he was a person of high social standing. In addition, he also had two leather belts and two knives on him.

The man was between 30 to 35 years old when he died His long hair also supports the claim that he was a high-ranking individual in his society. Furthermore, it was found that there his skull had been damaged by three blows from a blunt weapon, perhaps a pole or a hammer.

If Bocksten Man was indeed a victim of murder , two main hypotheses have been presented regarding the reason why. The first is that Bocksten Man had been recruiting soldiers, and was killed for that. Another suggestion is that he had been a tax collector, which caused him to be murdered.

It may be pointed out that Bocksten Man had a branch from a straw roof stuck into his chest, and it has been proposed that this was done, perhaps by the perpetrators of the crime, to make sure that their victim could not seek revenge from beyond the grave . Bocksten Man’s face was reconstructed about a decade ago and the model is displayed in the Halland Museum of Cultural History.

Tollund Man and the Tale of Ritual Sacrifice

Tollund Man as he appears today.

Tollund Man is the naturally mummified body of a man who lived during the 4th century BC. It is believed he was hanged as a sacrifice to the gods and placed in a peat bog where he remained preserved for more than two millennia. Today, the face of the Tollund Man is as preserved as the day he died. The look upon his face is calm and peaceful, as though looking upon a sleeping man.

This bog body was found by two brothers cutting peat near Silkeborg in Denmark in 1950. Analysis of his remains shows Tollund Man was slightly over five feet tall and approximately 40 years old when he died. The stubble on his chain, eyelashes, and the wrinkles in his skin can still be observed in minute detail. His last meal was a porridge made from 40 different kinds of seeds and grains.

He was naked apart from a leather cap and a wide belt around his waist. Around his neck was a braided leather rope tightened in a noose. It was clear that he had been hanged – but archaeologists wanted to find out if he was a criminal, a victim of crime, or part of a ritual sacrifice.

Tollund Man showed no signs of injury or trauma, apart from that caused by the hanging. It was clear that he had also been buried carefully in the bog – his eyes and mouth had been closed and his body placed in a sleeping position – something that wouldn’t have happened if he were a common criminal.

When somebody died in the Iron Age, the body was cremated in a funeral pyre and the ashes placed in an urn, but Tolland Man was buried in a watery place where the early people of Europe believed they could communicate with their many gods and goddesses. He was also killed in the winter or early spring, a time that human sacrifices were made to the goddess of spring . And most scholars agree that Tollund Man was probably a sacrifice. He now resides in a special room of the Silkeborg Museum.


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