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This skull was preserved in a bog for 5,000 years – with the murder weapon next to it

This skull was preserved in a bog for 5,000 years – with the murder weapon next to it
This skull was preserved in a bog for 5,000 years – with the murder weapon next to it

New insights into the life of a middle-aged man who lived about 5,000 years ago have provided a vivid snapshot of northern Europe at the dawn of agriculture.

The Danish peninsula of Jutland was cultivated by farmers around 6,000 years ago. The farmers had close relationships with hunter-gatherers in what is now Sweden and Norway, from where the Vittrup Man probably migrated.

In 1915, peat diggers in the northern Danish village of Vittrup discovered human skeletal remains, including a broken skull. A wooden club (which is believed to have killed him), cow bones and a ceramic vessel were also found in the bog with him. He was nicknamed the “Vittrup Man” and was included in a 2014 study of Denmark’s genetic history. Analysis showed that the Vittrup Man’s DNA was different from that of the native Danish population, suggesting that he grew up elsewhere.

Anders Fischer, a researcher at Sealand Archaeology, led the study. “We now have an individual behind the skeleton,” he said Story. “Someone whose story tells of the contact between two radically different worlds.”

(We thought we knew the secrets of Europe’s bog bodies. That was not true.)

Farmers and hunters

During the Neolithic period, when Vittrup Man lived, Denmark was inhabited by farmers known as the Neolithic Funnel Beaker culture. Further north, in what is now Norway and Sweden, Mesolithic hunter-gatherer communities lived. Using a combination of traditional archaeology and advanced biotechnology, Fischer’s research team discovered that Vittrup Man was closely related to these northern hunter-gatherers.

skullClear signs of a devastating blow were visible on the Vittrup man’s skull.

(These mummies were created … by chance?)

Historians have assembled evidence of the exchange of goods and people between both regions, and now the Vittrup Man offers a fascinating individual perspective on this process. Dietary analysis showed that he left his hunter-gatherer culture in the north as a teenager and spent the rest of his life among farmers in Denmark. His diet changed radically, moving from mainly marine fish or mammals to grains, milk, goats and sheep.

The Vittrup Man is the first immigrant in Danish history and embodies the transition between the two prehistoric eras and cultures. “His transition was not only geographical, but also between two different ways of life,” said Fischer.

(He is the most famous bog body in Europe. But who was the Tollund Man?)

Sacrificed?

Maple bat against black background

This maple club, found next to the Vittrup Man, struck eight fatal blows to his skull.

John Lee, Danish National Museum

Exciting questions about the Vittrup Man remain unanswered. Did he voluntarily move from the world of hunters to the world of farmers, as a trader, or was he enslaved? Professor Kristian Kristiansen of the University of Gothenburg tends towards the latter theory: “Perhaps we should understand him as a slave who was sacrificed to the gods when he was no longer fit for hard physical work.”

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