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Seeds in Bog Man's Last Meal Could Be a Clue

The long-running question: were bog men human sacrifices?
By Kate Seamons,  Newser Staff
Posted Jul 21, 2021 1:18 PM CDT

(Newser) – Seeds of pale persicaria may be a clue in a mystery: whether the so-called Tollund Man, found in 1950 in a bog in Denmark, was executed or sacrificed. A new study suggests it could be the latter, and those seeds are the reason why. As NBC News reports, the man's condition upon discovery was so good that it was initially thought he was a modern-day murder victim. In reality, his death had come 2,400 years prior. A noose made from animal hide was around his neck, suggesting execution, but his eyes were closed and his face bore the hint of a smile, indicating he may have been thoughtfully handled after serving as a human sacrifice—this deliberate arrangement was the case with other bog men, leading to the theory they were human sacrifices possibly carried out in hopes of avoiding famine or another natural disaster.

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His last meal was examined at the time of his discovery, but as lead study author and archaeologist Nina Nielsen explains, "they only looked at the well preserved grains and seeds, and not the very fine fraction of the material." What Nielsen and her team were able to do thanks to advances in technology: "the most comprehensive gut analysis of a bog body ever conducted," as National Geographic puts it. They determined he last ate a porridge of barley (85%), flax (5%), and pale persicaria (9%), which grows alongside barley but was typically removed as a weed during threshing in Iron Age times. Nielsen believes its presence suggests it was intentionally added, and "the inclusion of threshing waste could possibly relate to ritual practices," per the study published in Antiquity. That said, no hallucinogens or intoxicants were found in his digested remains, meaning they were given no "special medicine" that could suggest a ritual sacrifice. (Read more discoveries stories.)

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