In Focus: Lindow Man

In Focus: Lindow Man

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Welcome to In Focus. In this series we take a closer look at particular sites, finds and objects from the world of Archaeology.

Who Were The Druids Of Roman Britain? (History & Facts)

The druids of Roman Britain were a sect of religious leaders, philosophers, medicine men and kingly advisors in Celtic and Briton society.

A Druid’s Ceremony, Noël Hallé, 1737-1744 with Druids of Ole England, Joseph Martin Kronheim, 1868 and Old druid man, Anonymous, 1712

Ancient Roman authors, such as Caesar and Tacitus, perceived the druids of Gaul and Britain as savages. According to the Romans, the druids took part in strange rituals which possibly required human sacrifice. But is there any truth to these accounts? Get ready to discover who the Druids of Roman Britain really were.

10 The Last Stand Of The Pharaoh

Around 3,600 years ago, a pharaoh handled his horse skillfully as he led his soldiers on an expedition far from home. He had spent most of his life on horseback, permanently altering the muscles of his femur and pelvis. This was a break with tradition&mdashhorses had only recently been introduced to Egypt and were still uncommon in warfare along the Nile. But Pharaoh Senebkay needed every advantage he could get. The mighty empire of Ancient Egypt had broken apart as the invading Hyksos took over the northern part of the country, leaving Senebkay, the self-declared ruler of Upper and Lower Egypt, confined to a rump state around Abydos. Threatened by the Hyksos, Egyptian rivals in Thebes, and at least one major Nubian invasion, the pharaoh had spent most of his life at war.

Around 1600 BC, Senebkay was riding out against his enemies when he found himself under attack. He must have fought back. Tissue recovered from a related mummy revealed a muscular man who built strength by performing repetitive arm motions, probably in the form of combat drills, demonstrating that the Abydos pharaohs were trained to be warriors. The position of Senebkay&rsquos wounds indicate that he fought on horseback, giving him a substantial advantage as he slashed down at his enemies. However, he was surrounded by multiple assailants who stabbed him repeatedly in the knees, hands, and lower back. A powerful cut almost severed his foot entirely. Then he was pulled down. An enemy soldier stepped forward, hefting one of the curved battle-axes common in Egypt at the time. He delivered three massive blows to the pharaoh&rsquos head.

Senebkay&rsquos body wasn&rsquot mummified for several weeks, indicating that he died a long way from Abydos. His people may also have had trouble recovering his body. He was laid to rest in a painfully modest tomb, revealing the poverty of his dynasty. Even his sarcophagus had to be stolen from the tomb of an earlier ruler. In fact, Senebkay&rsquos dynasty was so obscure that historians only learned of its existence in 2014, when his tomb was unearthed. The University of Pennsylvania&rsquos Josef Wegner led the study of the pharaoh&rsquos skeleton, revealing the dramatic details of his death.


Not sure it is wise describing the remains of people as objects…although some would argue many museums do…indeed, the display of such objects has caused some controversy and that one of these bog relics has understandably now been removed from exhibit.

Lindow Museum in the London Museum
Photograph by Mike Peel (

On the 13 th May 1983, commercial peat cutters on Lindow Moss near Wilmslow, Cheshire made a grim discovery, parts of a human skull with hair! Bizarrely, overhearing this discovery was Peter Reyn-Barn, who had long be suspected of murdering his wife in the 1950s but no evidence was ever found. He thought that the ‘jig was up’ and confessed, stating that he had buried her in his back garden which backed onto the bog! The remains were later to be dated to 250AD. He was charged even though this evidence was revealed before the trial, he had confessed after all. Significant perhaps over a year later 1 st August 1984, these peat cutters found an even grimmer discovery: the remains of another body, strangled, throat cut and head beaten in. Again not Beyn-Fern wife, her body was never found, but a man of his mid 20s, the most complete bog person found in the UK. The evidence of two bodies in this area of peat bog was strong evidence of a ritual significance to the peoples in the area over 2000 years ago.

Compared to springs, peat bogs and marshes provide an interesting contrast. They provide water but it would have been generally inaccessible to prehistoric peoples as a source of drinking water, yet they emphasized the very mystery of watery areas the giving of water by the mother earth. Thus it is perhaps understandable that ritual activities would focus here where the water was less utile but still as unwordly.

Lindow Moss
copyright Roger Gittins

Why was he sacrificed?

Sadly although the majority of authorities agree these are the remains of sacrifices, little supporting evidence survives beyond them. Was he a significant member of the group This is more due to the fragmentary nature of such cultural survivals. One view is that it may be linked to the Celtic head cult, a cult I shall return to again in this blog. Date wise this would be concurrent with the Celtic period when this was undertaken. Who they were sacrificed to is unclear. Anne Ross quoted in Joy’s 2009 book on Lindow Man suggests that the three forms of execution, may suggest different offerings to different gods. Glob (1969) in The Bog People notes:

“the rope nooses which several of the bog people carry round their necks, and which caused their deaths, are a further sign of sacrifice to the goddess Nerthus. They are perhaps replicas of the twisted neck-rings which are the mark of honour of the goddess, and a sign of consecration to her. The neck-ring is expressly the sign of the fertility goddesses of the period.”

It was Roman Tacitus who recorded that she was celebrated by remote Suebi tribes in Germania. Nerthus was an Anglo-Norse Goddess of fertility which it would be likely transferred to England in the early pagan period of the colonisation, but evidence is scant I believe. Some have suggested it was an opportunist murder. But of course we really may never know. Joy notes:

“The jury really is still out on these bodies, whether they were aristocrats, priests, criminals, outsiders, whether they went willingly to their deaths or whether they were executed – but Lindow was a very remote place in those days, an unlikely place for an ambush or a murder.”

However, again as Glob (1969) notes murder and ritual sacrifice are not so far apart: often murderers would be sacrificed to atone for their guilt and again Tacitus notes:

“cowards, poor fighters and notorious evillivers are plunged in the mud of marshes with a hurdle on their heads.”

Dieck (1963) in The Problem with Bog People has recorded 690 bog bodies, the majority in North-western Europe, the stronghold of the Celts. Glob (1969) in The Bog People records 41 bodies recovered across England and Wales. 15 Scotland, as well as 19 Ireland in bogs, although few are as well preserved as Lindow Man found after his work of course. Less well known is the fact that over 20 years early in August 1958, a severed head was found. This again was thought be a recent murder but primitive chemical tests and X rays suggested at least 100 years. Post Lindow analysis showed him too to show evidence of a ritual killing with remains of a garrotte, although some believed it to be a necklace, from the late Iron Age-Romano British period and was again around 20-30 years old. The English remains which exist from a window of 1 st to 4 th centuries is interesting. Indeed The 150 years between the death of Lindow and Worsley man, is a period spanning the late Iron-Age to Roman occupation. What is interesting is that pre-Roman rituals were still clearly being undertaken in a period of occupation, after of course the Romans had outlawed it. It gives support to the survival of any pre-Christian ritual into Christianized times perhaps. What is fascinating about the Lindow Man and his other ‘bog people’ is that they provide a real tangible link to ancient water worship even if we never find out the true reasons for his murder.

In Focus: Lindow Man - History

The most frequently asked question in the British Museum is almost certainly ‘Where are the mummies?’

Understandably the collections of mummified human remains are a great source of fascination for visitors and the Egyptian galleries are always busy. The current exhibition Ancient lives, new discoveries uses the latest CT-scanning technology to see within the mummy wrappings of eight individuals, providing incredibly detailed images of conditions that affected their lives and their treatment after death. It will surely be popular with visitors but these same visitors may not realise that the Museum cares for more than 6,000 human remains, which cover a much broader range of time periods and places than just ancient Egypt.

Mummy of a Priest of Amun and Bastet, named Penamunnebnesuttawy. 760-525 BC, Found at Thebes, Egypt, L: 171 cm, British Museum EA6676. (Photo: (c) The Trustees of the British Museum)

Mummy of a Priest of Amun and Bastet, named Penamunnebnesuttawy. Shown with coffin lid removed.760-525 BC, Found at Thebes, Egypt, L: 171 cm, British Museum EA6676. (Photo: (c) The Trustees of the British Museum

Some individuals are well known, such as Lindow man, the Iron Age bog-body found in Cheshire in north-west England. Others lie in storage facilities both on and off the main Bloomsbury site. They range in date from the truly ancient Jericho skull, a Neolithic skull decorated with plaster around 9,000 years ago, to more recent remains relating to individuals who died in the 19th and early 20th centuries. Most of the remains in storage are skeletons but there are also examples of preserved soft human tissues and human remains that have been modified into new forms or incorporated into other objects. These present different challenges for museum staff in ensuring that these individuals are respectfully stored in the best conditions to ensure their continued preservation. This means any handling, study or treatment of the remains is done within the context that they were once a living human being a person who in common with people today had thoughts, emotions and life experiences.

Lindow man/Lindon II. 2 BC – AD 119, Lindow Moss, Cheshire, British Museum 1984,1002.1. (Photo (c) The Trustees of the British Museum)

Plastered skull, from Jericho, State of Palestine, Neolithic Period, about 8200-7500 BC. British Museum 127414. (Photo (c) The Trustees of the British Museum)

So why do we curate and display human remains at all? This is a controversial subject that has been debated for a long time and will continue to be discussed. There is no doubt that there have been, and will continue to be, huge benefits in having human remains available to study. The benefits of research however, must be set against the feelings of communities with strong connections to some of the human remains within museum collections. The British Museum has experienced several repatriation claims (see under related links on our Human Remains page), which are carefully considered on a case-by-case basis. Research using museum collections has been able to advance knowledge of the history of disease, epidemiology and human biology. It has also given valuable insight into different cultural approaches to death, burial and beliefs. This knowledge continues to grow as different techniques and approaches to such studies are developed and the total body of knowledge – within which comparisons can be made – expands.

Inside Room 62, Egyptian death and afterlife: mummies. The Roxie Walker Gallery

Display of human remains, both physically within museum galleries and online, is an important part of sharing this information to the widest possible audience. This not only spreads knowledge but may also help to generate enthusiasm for learning about our past hopefully for the benefit of future generations. Of course, display should be done with careful thought. There is no justification for the voyeuristic display of human remains simply as objects of morbid curiosity. As in storage, displays of human remains must acknowledge that the remains were once a living person and respect this fact. Human remains should not be displayed if they are not central to the information being conveyed and this has led to removal of some skeletal remains from British Museum galleries. Where possible, visitors should be able to avoid seeing human remains should they not wish to and the views of source communities should also be respected if they do not wish ancestral remains to be on public display.

There is no final word on such matters and no doubt the decisions made today will seem as out of step with current thinking in the future, as do decisions made by earlier generations of museum workers 50, 100 and in some cases 200 years ago. Looking after human remains in museums will therefore continue as a respectful balancing act across the boundaries of ethics, learning and access.

If you want to know more, a recent book, Regarding the Dead: Human Remains in the British Museum, discusses the ethical and practical issues associated with caring for human remains and presents some of the solutions the British Museum has sought to curation, storage, access and display. The book also discusses some of the research that has developed our understanding of these individuals’ past lives.

Ancient lives, new discoveries is at the British Museum until 30 November 2014.
The exhibition is sponsored by Julius Baer. Technology partner Samsung

The exhibition catalogue, Ancient lives, new discoveries: eight mummies, eight stories, is available at the Museum’s online shop for £15 (£13.50 for Members).

Regarding the Dead: Human Remains in the British Museum, edited by Alexandra Fletcher, Daniel Antoine and JD Hill is also published by British Museum Press.


These three notable archaeological case studies should demonstrate the variety of material available for investigation in North-West England. They each date to differing time periods, and have their own reasons for being significant. The north-west should not be seen as an area of the country with few remains, and that the landscape prohibits investigations to take place, or even that it is only useful to understand industrial archaeology. There is much more that can be gained from in-depth research, and improved field surveying and excavation procedures. These will then provide the area with more up-to-date publications, rather than pieces that are now almost 20-30 years old.

Neglecting a piece of archaeology holds the risk of forming inadequate and unreliable conclusions, so should be sought to be avoided. It also has the potential for being at risk if the correct preservation and conservation procedures are not implemented. Subsequently, this article has aimed to highlight how important finds in the North-West can be, and hopefully will have persuaded some that it is not a region to shy away from, but should be embraced in order to reveal how archaeologically rich it can be.

Conclusion: re-suturing bog bodies

This chapter has reviewed the work of the museum and gallery in gathering the evidence from archaeological analysis to imagine, visualise and realise how to tell that tale. When faced with violent or mysterious death, and the uncanny properties of a bog body, this is no mean feat. Sanders (2009: 19) lauds Glob’s own endeavour here, arguing that he ‘sutures the dissected body through poetic and photographic glossing’, achieving ‘almost a re-embalming’. As with Chapter 3, this chapter has sought to reveal the labour of that work, its ethical dilemmas and some creative solutions. In keeping with the examples of good practice discussed here, the front cover of this book also seeks to bring the reader ‘face to face’ with these dead, inverting the relationship of interrogative power normally bestowed by gazing down upon them in the bog. We may flinch in the face of the violence they have endured – we should do – but they need to prompt us to wonder, to question, to interrogate further and to imagine. This is their ‘riddling power’, as Heaney (1999: 4) puts it, for it moves us to consider not just their mortality and fate, but ours.

Dawn Walk in memory of archaeologist who recovered Lindow Man

Transition Wilmslow's annual Dawn Walk will have special poignancy this year as the group remembers Rick Turner, the archaeologist who recovered Lindow Man. Rick died earlier this year and the walk on Saturday, 22nd September, will be an appropriate time to reflect on his work.

John Handley said "Rick was a very good friend to Transition Wilmslow, including supporting the group's efforts with the Lindow Moss planning applications. He gave the keynote presentation at a Transition Wilmslow Day School about Lindow Moss in 2015."

Speaking at the event Rick Turner said "The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography lists about 60,000 men and women who have shaped the history of Britain. I only know of two of these who are not named, the Unknown Soldier and Lindow Man. Nearly all of these 60,000, including the Unknown Soldier have been memorialized in some way, so why not Lindow Man?"

"We know the exact point where Lindow Man was buried. Some of the uncut parts of the moss retain their sphagnum peat and may still contain other bog bodies. Lindow Moss' more recent history is of peat cutting and the reclamation of the margins of the site. Together with its prehistoric past, this forms an important cultural landscape extending back thousands of years. The moss is still in a condition where it can be recreated as a lowland raised mire. It retains its sense of enclosure and mystery."

Rick took part in the Dawn Walk organised by Transition Wilmslow in 2016 and gave a memorable account of what he imagined might have been Lindow Man's last journal entries before his death.

This year's guided walk of 2.5 to 3 miles will start at 6:30am from Lindow Common with readings along the way. The walk will celebrate the importance and special qualities of this ancient mossland which is especially atmospheric at sunrise.

Be prepared with clothing and footwear suitable for walking over rough ground and a torch to light your way. Don't forget to have something to eat before you set out so early in the morning!

For more information and to sign up for this free event please register at Eventbrite.

Doing History: Did Celts Ritually Kill Their Kings?

Cathbad placed his hand on the woman’s stomach and prophesied that the unborn child would be a girl named Deirdre, and that she would be exceedingly beautiful but would bring about the ruin of Ulster.


A recurrent theme in stories about the Irish gods is that of the love triangle between an old husband (or fiancé), a young suitor and a young girl. This is probably a disguised myth of sovereignty wherein an old king is challenged by a young claimant to the throne. The young girl in the middle of the triangle may be identified with the goddess of sovereignty, whose power of granting prosperity to the land had to be won by means of sexual union with the young pretender. If the land needed revivifying, the old mortal king had to be deposed in favour of vigorous youth.

Aldhouse-Green, Miranda. The Celtic Myths: A Guide to the Ancient Gods and Legends (Kindle Locations 975-981). Thames and Hudson Ltd. Kindle Edition. (My bolding in all quotations)

We also have Roman testimony that the Celts practised human sacrifice:

They used to strike a human being, whom they had devoted to death, in the back with a sabre, and then divine from his death-struggle. But they would not sacrifice without the Druids. We are told of still other kinds of human sacrifices for example, they would shoot victims to death with arrows, or impale them in the temples, or, having devised a colossus of straw and wood, throw into the colossus cattle and wild animals of all sorts and human beings, and then make a burnt-offering of the whole thing.

Strabo, Geography, IV, 4.5

Compare the circularity of “Biblical archaeology”:

Q: How do we know that the Biblical King David existed?
A: Archaeologists have unearthed the Tel Dan inscription that contains the expression many translate as “House of David”.
Q: How do we know that that inscription should not be translated temple of the beloved (david=beloved), a reference to a deity?
A: We have the Biblical story about King David.

The moral of this post is that correlation does not imply causation. We love mythical tales, both Celtic and Biblical. We often want to believe there is some truth behind them so it is easy for us to interpret archaeological finds as evidence for that “historical core”. But we fail to see that we are falling into the trap of circularity when we do that:

Q: How do we know the stories of Celtic human sacrifice were true?

A: Archaeologists have unearthed evidence of ritual killings.

Q: How do we know the evidence of the bones points to ritual killing?

A: That is the most natural interpretation given the literary accounts of human sacrifice.

  • Left unasked of the evidence: could the evidence of bones be explained in other ways? a post-death ritual misunderstood by the Romans, for example?
  • Left unasked of the Roman accounts: were tales of barbarism among conquered peoples manufactured to justify Roman belief that their conquests were a civilizing mission?

Lindow Man

In August 1984, the mechanical digger of peat-cutters working at Lindow Moss in Cheshire uncovered a human arm, part of a 2,000-year-old bog-body. The remains were those of a young man in his prime, about 25 years old. He was naked but for an armlet made of fox-fur, and no grave goods accompanied him. The mistletoe in his digested food revealed that he had eaten a special ‘last supper’. Like the Irish victims, this man had horrific injuries leading to his death: most significant were at least two blows to the head that cracked his skull and stunned him he was then garrotted and, at the same time, his throat was cut.

The triple manner of his death has led some to connect him with the early medieval myth of the ritual threefold death that befell some Irish kings. One of these was the 6th-century AD Diarmaid mac Cerbhaill, who enquired of his wise men the manner of his death. The answer was that he would be stabbed, drowned in a vat of ale and burnt. Diarmaid scorned the prophecy, but it came to pass. Lindow Man was selected for a special death and burial. It was important that his body would be frozen in time, not permitted to decay, so the normal rites of death and ease of passage to the next world were denied him. His journey to the Otherworld was halted at the gate leading out from the world of humans.

Aldhouse-Green, Miranda. The Celtic Myths: A Guide to the Ancient Gods and Legends (Kindle Locations 2696-2708). Thames and Hudson Ltd. Kindle Edition.

Murder on the Mire

One Irish story, in the Cycle of Kings, describes the events leading up to the convoluted death of King Diarmuid. The king slays the man his wife has been having an affair with, and a Druid, or prophet, named Bec Mac De, foretells that he will suffer a three-fold death as a result – at the hands of one of the adulterer’s relatives, Aedh. The prophecy was very precise: Diarmuid would be killed by wounding, burning, drowning and a ridge pole falling on his head (a fourfold death, in fact). Eventually the prophecy is fulfilled. Black Aedh, in the doorway of the house where the king is feasting, pierces Diarmuid through the chest with his spear and breaks his spine Diarmuid flees back into the house, but Aedh’s men set it on fire Diarmuid immerses himself in a vat of ale to escape the flames finally, the roof beam of the burning house falls on his head and finishes him off.

The triple deaths of kings and warriors described in the Irish myths, very often prophesied in advance, involve accidental fatal injuries as well as intentional assaults, but they may mythologize an actual practice: a ritual form of threefold killing. Perhaps this is a rare and valuable clue, from Celtic – rather than Roman – literature, that the Celts did indeed carry out human sacrifices.

Roberts, A. (2015). The Celts by Alice Roberts (UK Airports edition). Heron Books.

Alice Roberts is not a historian but she is a paleopathologist and does understand the scientific method and the principles of valid research. And her discussion of the evidence for human sacrifice among the Celts is instructive.

Roberts asks how we can know that Roman reports of Celtic human sacrifice were not “malicious fictions”, “deliberate anti-Celtic propaganda”. Could those reports have arisen as a result of misunderstanding alien Celtic funerary rites? Or if Celts did sacrifice their fellow creatures could that have been a form of capital punishment for criminals? (Roberts makes the wry observation that though the Romans were scandalized by stories of barbarians offering human sacrifices to appease the gods they had no qualms about killing people for fun in gladiatorial contests or displays of wild animals attacking victims in the arena.)

For the BBC program on the Celts Roberts interviewed the Irish archaeologist Ned Kelly. (As an Australian I have to wonder if anyone could survive in Australia growing up with that name.) The first body discussed is that of Clonycavan Man from between 400 to 200 BCE (who looks very similar to the much later Lindow Man above).

This poor individual bears the marks of several fatal injuries. The skull has suffered a severe blow to the face that had broken its nose. The back of the skull, in addition, has been struck several times.

In the same museum Roberts showed viewers another find, that of Old Croghan Man (ca 360-170 BCE):

The hands of Clonycavan Man appear to tell a special story. Roberts writes:

I looked carefully at his hands. They were so amazingly well preserved that I could see his fingerprints. They were smooth, uncalloused. The nails were neatly trimmed. Archaeologists have suggested that these smooth and manicured hands indicate that this man wasn’t used to manual work – that he was someone of very high social standing.

The body has been decapitated, sliced in half, and stabbed in the left side of his chest. That looks like a “three-fold killing”. Further, his “arms had been cut and hazel withies inserted through them” and his nipples were half cut off.

It’s hard to know what to make of these other injuries, especially as there’s no real way of knowing whether these insults to the body happened before or after death. The withies through the arms and the nipple slashing could be evidence of torture. But archaeologist Ned Kelly, the former Keeper of Irish Antiquities at the National Museum of Ireland, believes that there is something more strange going on – and that these injuries were part of the rites that accompanied the killing of a king.

Then there’s Moydrum Man (dated around 700-400 BCE). He is famous for what has been found in his guts: 300 sloe fruit stones!

From the video. X-ray showing hundreds of circles in his intestine that were discovered to be sloe fruit stones.

Ned Kelly explains what he believes we are looking at here:

Nobody’s going to ingest 300 sloes no matter how hungry they are. I think we can say this is a ritual meal. First of all, the sloe ripens at the end of October and at the beginning of November. That is the festival of Samhain, modern Halloween. And that is the time of year which, according to the early Irish written material, kings were killed. (The Celts, Season 1, Episode 3, 42:40)

Kelly also interprets Clonycavan Man and Old Crogham Man as “clear evidence for . . . ritual killings”.

Why a three-fold death? Perhaps there is some relation to the sovereignty goddess Sadhbh since she appeared in three different forms: maid, nymph and hag.

And we have not yet discussed the location of these bodies. They were apparently found “near hills where kings were inaugurated, or near boundaries between ancient kingdoms.”

So the details accumulate and it is easy to find reasons to believe what we would like to believe.But here is where Alice Roberts issues a sober warning:

The problem with such interpretations of the bog bodies is that the physical evidence may cast light on how someone was killed, but, as I have mentioned before, it can never tell us why that person was killed. Was Ned just looking for ways to explain the archaeological finds through mythology? Could he justify the links he was making between accounts of history and mythology, written in the early Middle Ages, and prehistoric cultures dating to centuries, if not millennia earlier? Ned argued that there was a striking correspondence between the details described in the tales and the evidence presented by the bog bodies. But I was concerned that we risked entering into a circular argument again, using the Celtic myths to make inferences about the meaning of these deaths, interpreting them as ritualistic, and then using the bodies to support an ancient reality behind the myths.

The stories Ned told, about hills where kings were crowned, right back into the Iron Age and even earlier, about traditional boundaries having a similarly ancient origin, and about kings being ritually sacrificed to the sovereignty goddess when their luck ran out, were wonderful. I wanted to buy it. I wanted to believe in these ancient rituals and believe that the bog bodies were sacrificed kings. I wanted to believe that we could understand these ancient cultures in this much detail. But the stories only seemed to run around in circles, justifying themselves.

I wasn’t convinced that the bog bodies constituted evidence of ritual death, let alone the triple death of kings. After all, Ned’s story was just one among a number of possible hypotheses. There could be other reasons for very obviously violent deaths – that people were being made an example of, for instance, like being hanged, drawn and quartered. Even the withies through the arms and the cut nipples of Old Croghan Man could have been plain torture, rather than a complicated ritual associated with human sacrifice. And leaving the bodies in bogs could have been a much less thoughtful method of disposal than Ned was suggesting. And I didn’t see any clear reason to infer that these deaths and depositions, sporadically appearing over the course of two millennia, should be linked by anything more than coincidence and accident. The role of chance is often underplayed, especially in archaeology. We like to spot patterns and, above all, we like to believe there are reasons for those patterns.

Roberts, A. (2015). The Celts by Alice Roberts (UK Airports edition). Heron Books.

Surely, though, Moydrum Man’s belly overloaded with 300 sloe plums, a very bitter fruit, cannot be explained away. Even Roberts found herself agreeing with Kelly that these had to be signs of a ritual last meal. Yet even here Roberts found a reason to question the theory of a ritually sacrificed king. A closer examination of the bones showed, at least to Roberts’ trained eye, that they belonged to a woman.

Manchester Prepares For The Appearance Of Lindow Man

Lindow Man will be returning to Manchester Museum in April 2008.

Alice Kershaw looks at some of the issues facing Manchester Museum as it prepares to display the remains of Lindow Man for the third time.

Manchester Museum has announced plans to exhibit Lindow Man, the naturally preserved body of an Iron Age man, from April 2008 until March 2009.

It will be the third time the freeze-dried bog man - discovered in Wilmslow, Cheshire, in 1984 and currently an exhibit at the British Museum - will have been on display in the city. But this time Manchester Museum is developing proposals that will reflect a wide range of different perspectives on the display of the human remains.

Through a series of public consultations the views of archaeologists, curators and Pagan groups are being sought - all of whom have very different views on Lindow Man.

The sensitivities surrounding the display of human remains as museum exhibits can be paralleled with the difficulty of writing about them should Lindow Man be referred to as an object - an ‘it’, or as a person - a ‘him’?

Whether or not the remains, carbon dated between 2 BC and 119 AD, cease to be a person on death, as archaeology assumes, or continue to retain personhood, as the Pagans believe, is central to the debate about the nature of the forthcoming exhibition.

Manchester Museum, part of Manchester University, has been at the forefront of the debate about how to handle human remains. © Manchester Museum

“We have objectified him into an ‘it’,” admits Bryan Sitch, head of humanities at the Manchester Museum, “perhaps because it's easier psychologically to do so. But personally I can't help feeling the remains of a human body are different from a bronze pot, a flint arrow or an Iron Age sword.”

It is precisely this tension that has led to debate about how Lindow Man, and indeed other human remains, should be displayed. According to Bryan, one of the purposes of the exhibition is to “explore the 'vexed subject' of how we treat human remains”.

This is something the university is well placed to tackle. In November 2006, in conjunction with the Manchester Museum, it hosted a conference entitled ‘Respect for Ancient British Human Remains: Philosophy and Practice’.

The conference was jointly organised by Piotr Bienkowski, deputy museum director, and Emma Restall Orr, head of the Druid Network and founder of Honouring the Ancient Dead (HAD). The conference heard opinion from both sides of the debate, including academics and scientists who value human remains for the scientific information they contain, and from those who take a more holistic or even spiritual approach.

Restall Orr’s Druid Network believes the remains of ancient Britons are tribal ancestors who need treating differently to standard museum objects. In her essays on the subject she refers to Lindow Man unfailingly as a ‘him’, as ‘young man’ and as an ‘ancestor’. She calls for him to be permanently returned to the North West, and repatriated to his 'tribal landscape'.

Manchester Museum's Ancient Egypt Galleries contain several examples of preserved remains. To date UK museums have received no formal representations for the return of Ancient Egyptian human remains. © Manchester Museum

She is asking this question in the light of a wider debate on repatriation of human remains to their places of origin. During the days of Empire human remains were sometimes acquired under dubious circumstances. British colonial authorities were thought to have collected skulls and bones of indigenous peoples for display in British museums, causing great distress to communities involved. These collections can be an affront to the customs of peoples who have their own beliefs about how bodies should be treated after death.

In January 2007 nine tattooed heads, or toi moko, held in the University of Aberdeen’s Marischal Museum since the 1820s, were handed over to staff from the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa. Another recent ongoing case has seen the Tasmanian Aboriginal Centre take the Natural History Museum to court in an attempt to limit testing on the remains of 17 Aboriginal people already earmarked for repatriation.

Elsewhere newspaper reports have suggested the Pitt Rivers Museum in Oxford may be considering the ethics of displaying its famous South American shrunken heads, whilst in St Edmondsbury in Suffolk a panel has been set up by the local council to consider the return of a scalp and a book bound in human hide – the remains of a local murderer held at Moyse’s Hall Museum.

Each of these cases is very different, with each having its own set of circumstances and sensitivities. Government guidelines on repatriation indicate there should be a provable continuity of beliefs, customs and languages. The proof sought by these guidelines is, however, still based upon the scientific language of anthropology and archaeology.

A recent repatriation of remains - in this case Maori tattooed heads - took place in January 2007. Kau Matau (elder) Ku Ku Pa from Te Papa receiving the 'toi moko' from the Aberdeen Museum. © John McKenzie McIntosh, University Of Aberdeen

According to The Human Remains Report, issued by the Working Group on Human Remains in Museum Collections (HRWG), most requests for repatriation have been from North America, Australasia and the Pacific, with no submissions for return coming from Egypt, despite large museum holdings of human remains from this country.

In the main, scientists seem to want these objects to remain within British Museums due to their importance to science, as they can reveal information about DNA, evolution and the spread of diseases. They believe that it is in the public interest to retain such collections.

According to the report of the HRWG, increasingly museum practitioners believe the views of the originating communities should be afforded the same status comparable to scientific communities. Science cannot simply dismiss the beliefs of other groups.

The guidelines focus on the repatriation of remains under 1000 years old, allowing indigenous peoples to claim back the remains of their ancestors. They focus primarily on non-British remains, as these have proved to be the most contentious.

Restall Orr talks of how, for Pagans, "it makes no difference how long ago someone died. We are their living relatives." She goes on to describe how Pagans aren’t concerned with the religious affiliation of their ancestors, but feel that all remains from the period are in need of care. Whether or not Lindow Man was a Druid, and debates about the circumstances of his death focus on this aspect, the Pagans would essentially feel the same about how his remains should be treated.

A skeleton in the Ancient Egypt Galleries of Manchester Museum. © Manchester Museum

Bienkowski says that the debate surrounding Lindow Man is not so much about ‘rights’ as about respect for religious sensitivities and respect for alternative world views which are different from the scientific world view.

In his paper read at the ‘Respect’ conference he described how "'research potential’ takes precedence over ethical recognition of the intentions of past human beings." These tensions and misunderstandings between differing worldviews have previously resulted in the the scientific viewpoint taking primacy in the debate. Now museums must explicitly seek out consent and consultation with communities related to the dead.

The body is important both to museum curators and modern day Pagans and the debate about how Lindow Man should be displayed throws up questions about cultural sensitivity, rights and respect for other beliefs and perspectives. It questions the holding and display of human remains for the purposes of scientific enquiry and research in the light of repatriation claims from abroad and now from within Britain itself.

Watch the video: This 2,400-Year-Old Corpse Is in Remarkable Condition (May 2022).

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