British

Archaeology

The voice of archaeology in Britain and beyond

Cover of British Archaeology 107

Issue 107

July / August 2009

Contents

news

Scottish dig has big surprise in the post

Urine to navel fluff: the first complete witch bottle

Celtic tankard adds value to Welsh treasure

In the press

In Brief & Phase 2

features

on the web

Recommended websites
Websites of univeristy archaeology departments and a community site for Digging Vindolanda.

letters

your views and responses

CBA Correspondent

Some recent projects benefiting from Challenge Funding.

my archaeology

Simon McBurney is a writer and actor; his father, archaeologist Charles

 

ISSN 1357-4442

Editor Mike Pitts

features

Finding Lindow Man

Britain's only surviving "bog body" was found in Cheshire 25 years ago. With photos taken at the time – some not seen before – Rick Turner remembers the day when saving Lindow Man was entirely in his hands.

It began with a phone call. On August 1 1984, Rachel Pugh, a young reporter on the Wilmslow World, had been tipped off by a local policeman that a well-preserved human foot had been found that day. It had been taken off the elevator at the depot where they sorted out the debris from the usable peat dug from Lindow Moss. Rachel suspected the potential importance of this find and rang me as Cheshire's county archaeologist for a reaction. I had not been in the post for long, for that evening a retirement party was being held for my predecessor, Rhys Williams. He was an Anglesey man, and ironically given what followed, he was presented with a copy of a bronze mirror from the iron age votive hoard from Llyn Cerrig Bach.

My reaction to Rachel's questions was to say that I would visit the site the next day. Wilmslow was about an hour's drive from home. My excitement grew as I entered Manchester's richest dormitory town and drove past the Porsche garage, the designer dress shop and bistros. I turned along Moor Lane and into an unkempt stretch of countryside on the southern edge of Lindow Moss, where the peat company's depot lay. Here I met Ken Harewood, Eddie Slack, Stephen Dooley and Reg and Andy Mould, the five men who worked the site. Over the next few years they were to be inconvenienced, put upon and patronised by archaeologists, the police and the world's media, yet they were always helpful and deeply interested in what they had found and what it meant. They even nicknamed me Indiana.

Eddie showed me how he had found the foot. A narrow-gauge diesel engine hauled small trucks of peat from the moss a few hundred metres away into the depot. The trucks were tipped onto an elevator, which lifted the peat up to a milling machine. Here, it was chopped up before it was added to the pile in the yard. Eddie and a colleague had to take off the debris – normally bits of wood – which could jam the mill. The day before, it was a peat-tanned right foot with the skin of the lower leg.

Eddie then walked me down the railway line onto the moss. You pass through a fringe of birch trees, in which the morning mists regularly hang, into another world. The railway turned to run down the centre of the surviving moss. On either side 100–200m long "rooms", about 5m wide and 1m deep, were dug by a large excavator. The peat was piled on the adjacent bank or balk where it was left to dry for at least a year. It was then loaded onto the trucks and run back to the depot for milling. The foot had come out of these stacks. I began to walk the uncut section alongside what was left of the stack. Quite quickly I noticed what seemed to be a leather bag poking out of the base of the section. Its tip was blackened, but the rest was supple like a dark-coloured chamois. Being a trained archaeologist, my first reaction was to poke it with my trowel. From inside the bag, a recognisable human bone fell out.

Standing in the bog that August morning, I was convinced I was looking at part of a bog body. The layers of peat above the flap were intact and Eddie told me that over the years at least 3m of peat had been excavated from above the findspot. My problem was that I was also standing in a crime scene.

On May 13 1983, Andy and Steve were working the elevator. They picked off what they thought was a burst football. On hosing it down in the yard, they revealed a skull, softened by the peat, with some hair, an eyeball and part of the brain attached. They reported this remarkable find to the local Macclesfield police, who, bizarrely, were investigating the 20-year old disappearance of Malika Reyn-Bardt. Her husband, Peter, had admitted to a cellmate in prison that he had killed her, dismembered her body, burnt it and buried it in the garden. The house they lived in backed onto the peat farm at Lindow Moss.

The police had interviewed Reyn-Bardt, but he denied the murder. They had excavated the garden and found no human remains. Now, a few months later, this well-preserved human head, identified as a woman, of the right age and relatively modern in date by the pathologist, had turned up just a few hundred metres from the Reyn-Bardts' house. On being confronted with this discovery, Reyn-Bardt confessed to his wife's murder, and was committed for trial in Chester that December. Yet despite extensive searches out on the peat bog no more human remains were found. The investigating officer, Superintendent Neville Jones, was not satisfied and having failed to interest a number of archaeologists in the human head paid Oxford University for a radiocarbon date. The results came just before the trial: 1740±80BP, or around AD130–290 (uncalibrated) – the skull was Romano-British. Nevertheless, Mr Reyn-Bardt was convicted of murder, on the evidence of his confession alone.

So when the police came again to remove the foot, the investigation was re-opened and the coroner was given jurisdiction over the remains. I was standing on site with another part of a body, without the police's or the peat company management's knowledge. I needed a phone and a drink. It was just after 11.00am and I drove back into Wilmslow, sat in the Carter's Arms and had a double whiskey. From reading PV Glob's the Bog People some years before, I guessed I was the first archaeologist ever to find a bog body with its stratigraphic context intact. I needed back-up, so I rang my office then made an appointment to see Supt Neville Jones. For him, we were dealing either with the remains of Mrs Reyn-Bardt, or if I was to be believed an archaeological find of international importance. To his great credit, he trusted me and agreed that I would be allowed to excavate whatever the flap of skin represented under police supervision. I had the following day, Friday, to organise things, and then would return to Lindow Moss on the Monday, with the police guarding the findspot during the weekend. I spent the evening re-reading the Bog People.

Two things seemed paramount. Firstly before excavation began, the section needed to be fully recorded, and a full peat column for environmental analysis had to be taken. Secondly, given there was only one day available, I resolved that whatever the flap of skin represented it should be lifted undisturbed in a block of peat so that final excavation could be carried out under laboratory conditions. In 1984, there was no professional archaeological unit based in Cheshire. So for help, I rang Robina McNeil and Joan Taylor of Liverpool University, where environmental archaeologists Gill Yates and Nigel Richardson were based. Colin Shell from Cambridge University was staying with Joan and he came along too. Helen Lockwood, my partner and now wife, joined the team. Crucially I made two other calls, the first to Velson Horie, conservator at the Manchester Museum, famous for its work on Egyptian mummies, and secondly to the British Museum where I told Gill Varndell what I thought I had found.

On the Monday, we gathered at Lindow Moss. Robina and I got there first. Joan and her team were delayed because of problems with the department's minibus. Velson arrived safely but Helen was late, because a gas fitter she had agreed to let in at our house did not turn up on time. The police were there in force under Neville Jones's command. Also in attendance were Robert Connolly, the coroner's appointed pathologist, John Ellis, an ex-major who worked in my office and turned up with a van load of equipment, and Ken and his staff from the peat depot. There were a difficult couple of hours keeping everyone entertained, whilst Gill and Nigel drew the section and took two peat monoliths.

The five of us archaeologists then carefully cleared the overburden and cut around the margins of what was later to be revealed as Lindow Man without exposing any more of the body. John Ellis and Ken Harewood constructed a device to slide a plywood sheet under the block of peat we had cut out, and made a scaffolding cradle on which to carry it. By about 7pm, we carried off our trophy from the moss in triumph. When Glob recovered Tollund Man in 1950 in a similar way, one of his helpers collapsed and died of a heart attack. Glob whimsically wrote:

"The bog claimed a life for a life; or as some may prefer to think, the old gods took a modern man in place of the man from the past."

No such fate befell our team.

That evening the block of peat was taken to the mortuary at Macclesfield General Hospital. During the day, Robert Connolly had announced that he was going to return the following morning with the police to conduct an autopsy. I was horrified, as this would undo all my efforts to keep the discovery intact. Velson Horie came to the rescue. He and I resolved to be at the mortuary early next morning. Velson brought clingfilm, a sheet of plywood, a saw and the two chemicals needed to make polyurethane foam. We wrapped the block of peat in clingfilm, made four sides of a box to fit around the outside and then Velson mixed the foam. Just as it was setting, in walked Connolly and the police.

Velson's manoeuvre infuriated Connolly but it bought us time, in which we could discuss things more rationally. We had to determine whether this was part of a modern murder victim, or an archaeological discovery of the greatest importance, preferably without disturbing the contents of the foam-filled box. On the archaeological side, there was the evidence of the intact stratigraphy, the great depth of peat removed from the site since 1960, the similarity of the preservation of the remains to Glob's bog people and the date of the head recovered the previous year. On the other hand we had the potential to confirm a modern murder, the power of the coroner, the police's authority and the pathologist's expertise.

However it was the local pathologist, Dr Williams, who came up with the best idea: X-ray the block of peat. Nearly every modern person, he argued, has metal on their body even if they are naked – fillings in their teeth! It was the radiologist who gave the body the nickname Pete Marsh as she had to fill a name onto the form. The X-ray gave us the first inkling of what we had got, showing clearly the curve of the backbone, the two arms and the skull. There were no tooth fillings.

About this time Ian Stead of the British Museum turned up. He brought the gravitas of a great national institution and lot of good Yorkshire common-sense to the case. He brokered a deal with the coroner that if a radiocarbon date of a sample from the foot proved to be ancient, then the BM would take responsibility for the remains, their scientific investigation and conservation. A sample was sent to Harwell, who, after a fortnight were able to say that the body was over 500 years old. It was released and transferred to London where Ian directed its true excavation.

With 25 years reflection, we can see that Lindow Man's discovery led to three great advances. The first was to put a face to British prehistory. Here was a body whose last and horrific 24 hours could be reconstructed in great detail, whose appearance was so memorably reconstructed by Richard Neave, yet whose death leaves many mysteries. Secondly, 20 years after Glob wrote the Bog People, it reawakened scientific and archaeological interest in bog bodies across northern Europe, deepening and widening our understanding of this remarkable phenomenon. Finally, it helped the police embrace the archaeological method in dealing with scenes of crimes, and saw the birth of forensic archaeology, now used across the world to look at modern as well as ancient tragedies.

See Bog Bodies: New Discoveries & New Perspectives, ed RC Turner & R Scaife (British Museum 1995); Lindow Man: The Body in the Bog, ed IM Stead, JB Bourke & D Brothwell (British Museum 1986); The Bog People, by PV Glob (Faber & Faber 1969, from a Danish original 1965). Rick Turner is an inspector of ancient monuments with Cadw, Welsh Assembly Government.


Jody Joy, curator of iron age Britain and Europe, describes one of the British Museum's most popular exhibits

Lindow Man cover

Lindow Man caused a media sensation. One of the most significant archaeological discoveries of the 1980s, he is our best bog body, preserved for nearly 2,000 years with a furrowed brow and close-cropped hair: the first face from prehistoric Britain. His appeal continues. He is a prehistoric celebrity, appearing in numerous television documentaries. Visitors to the British Museum are fascinated by the remarkable preservation. He was recently loaned to the Manchester Museum for an exhibition (Spoilheap, Jul/Aug 2008) and soon will appear at the Great North Museum, Newcastle Upon Tyne (Lindow Man: Body of Evidence, Aug 1–Nov 29) in its first major special exhibition.

The remains of Lindow Man, like other bog bodies dating from around 500BC–AD100 found in Ireland, Denmark, the Netherlands and northern Germany, offered many opportunities for research. Only around 20 such bodies are as well-preserved, and fewer still have been the subject of such a thorough investigation. Yet there are still many unanswered questions.

Naked except for a fox-fur band on his left arm, he was 1.68–1.73m tall (5ft 6ins–5ft 8ins) and around 25 years old. He had mild arthritis in his lower spine and intestinal parasites. He was well groomed. At only 1–9cm, his hair was longest at the neck, providing the effect of a well-styled mullet! (The present red colour was caused by chemicals in the bog; originally it was dark brown.) His beard and moustache had been trimmed with shears, and his fingernails were filed: at 1,000× magnification they resemble those of a female manicurist. On the day or the day before he died, he ate finely-ground wheat and barley. The wheat had been heated to 200–250°C: his last meal was not the boiled gruel of some other European bog bodies, but probably a flat unleavened griddle cake baked over an open fire.

Medical and forensic investigations revealed numerous injuries. Iain West of Guy's Hospital suggested Lindow Man had been struck on the top of his head twice with a heavy object; a blow to the back of the chest broke a rib; a loop of animal sinew had been used as a garrotte, marking the skin and breaking the neck, then a deep cut was made at the side of the neck, severing his jugular vein. Finally he was placed face down in a pool in the bog.

This is the story told for many years beside the British Museum exhibit. Robert Connolly, a lecturer in physical anthropology at the Department of Human Anatomy, University of Liverpool, presented an alternative. According to him, Lindow Man died from a series of vicious blows to the top and back of the head. All other potential injuries, Connolly argued, can be explained by changes after death, including marks from a neck ornament (the sinew) as the submerged body bloated in the pool.

None of this explains why he was killed. Was he an executed prisoner, or had he died during combat or after a violent robbery? The multiple and extended sequence of injuries might have had religious significance: was Lindow Man a sacrifice victim? Mistletoe in his gut could be interpreted in the light of the Roman historian Pliny's comment that the plant was used by Druids – or, with only four pollen grains, it could be there by chance. These different "deaths" have been related to various gods mentioned in classical and medieval Irish and Welsh texts.

In 2004 Ronald Hutton questioned the sacrifice idea in the Times Literary Supplement, arguing that alternative theories cannot be excluded on current evidence. Critical to why Lindow Man was killed, is when? Radiocarbon dating places the death at 2BC–AD119, largely after the Roman conquest of this part of Britain. Despite this, as Hutton pointed out, most interpretations presume he died in a pre-Roman cultural context.

At least two other bog bodies were deposited at Lindow Moss. Worsley Man, found only 20km from Lindow Man, also shows signs of "overkill": he had received heavy blows to the head, had a cord around his neck and was decapitated. These other bodies are Roman in date. Iron age bog bodies are up to 400 years earlier, but if Lindow Man was Roman, the possibility that he was sacrificed to the gods cannot be completely excluded. His body was placed in the bog because it was significant to the religious beliefs of people in the region. It was important to them that his death was violent – and we should judge that brutal end from their perspective.

Lindow Man, by Jody Joy, was published by the British Museum Press in April (£5 pp64 ISBN 978-0714128177 PB).

CBA web:

British Archaeology

Jan/Feb 2005
Mar/Apr 2005
May/Jun 2005
Jul/Aug 2005
Sep/Oct 2005
Nov/Dec 2005
Jan/Feb 2006
Mar/Apr 2006
May/Jun 2006
Jul/Aug 2006
Sep/Oct 2006
Nov/Dec 2006
Jan/Feb 2007
Mar/Apr 2007
May/Jun 2007
Jul/Aug 2007
Sep/Oct 2007
Nov/Dec 2007
Jan/Feb 2008
Mar/Apr 2008
May/Jun 2008
Jul/Aug 2008
Sep/Oct 2008
Nov/Dec 2008
Jan/Feb 2009
Mar/Apr 2009
May/Jun 2009
Jul/Aug 2009
Sep/Oct 2009
Nov/Dec 2009
Jan/Feb 2010
Mar/Apr 2010
May/Jun 2010
Jul/Aug 2010
Sep/Oct 2010
Nov/Dec 2010
Jan/Feb 2011
Mar/Apr 2011
May/Jun 2011
Jul/Aug 2011
Sep/Oct 2011
Nov/Dec 2011
Jan/Feb 2012
Mar/Apr 2012

CBA Briefing

Fieldwork
Conferences
Noticeboard
Courses & lectures
CBA Network
Grants & awards

CBA homepage