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Mummy's Last Supper: Famous Iron Age Tollund Man Had Primitive Porridge for Meal, Research Reveals

© Photo : Facebook / Museum SilkeborgThe well-preserved head of Tollund Man
The well-preserved head of Tollund Man - Sputnik International, 1920, 25.07.2021
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Tollund Man's death, which was most likely some type of human sacrifice, dates back roughly 2,400 years, and the researchers stressed that thousands of individuals died under the same circumstances in the wetlands of Northwestern Europe during the Iron Age.
A fresh study of the last meal of the famous Tollund Man, an Early Iron Age bog man (naturally mummified corpse) found in Denmark, has revealed new information about his final hours before his most likely tragic death.
Tollund Man ate a bog-water porridge made of barley, pale persicaria, flax, and presumably fish 12 to 24 hours before he was slain, according to results published this week in the journal Antiquity. 
Researchers lead by Nina Nielsen of the Silkeborg Museum also discovered eggs and proteins from intestinal worms, indicating the mummy was infected with parasites such as tapeworms, whipworms, and mawworms.
"Although the meal may reflect ordinary Iron Age fare, the inclusion of threshing waste could possibly relate to ritual practices," the report noted. "This re-analysis illustrates that new techniques can throw fresh light on old questions and contribute to understanding life and death in the Danish Early Iron Age."
© Photo : Facebook / Museum SilkeborgReconstruction of the Tollund Man on display at the Silkeborg Museum
Reconstruction of the Tollund Man on display at the Silkeborg Museum - Sputnik International
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Reconstruction of the Tollund Man on display at the Silkeborg Museum
© Photo : the Danish National MuseumPhotomicrograph of Tollund Man's gut content (photograph by P.S. Henriksen, the Danish National Museum).
Photomicrograph of Tollund Man's gut content (photograph by P.S. Henriksen, the Danish National Museum). - Sputnik International
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Photomicrograph of Tollund Man's gut content (photograph by P.S. Henriksen, the Danish National Museum).
© Photo : Cambridge University Pressa) Map showing the location of Tollund Man's discovery in Bjældskovdal (figure by N.H. Nielsen, Museum Silkeborg; contains data from the Danish Geodata Agency); b) Tollund Man's large intestine (photograph courtesy of the Danish National Museum); c) the well-preserved head of Tollund Man (photograph by A. Mikkelsen); d) the original honey glass jar in which the contents of the large intestine were kept until 2018; e) the remaining 140ml of the large intestine content (d–e photographs by N.H. Nielsen, Museum Silkeborg).
a) Map showing the location of Tollund Man's discovery in Bjældskovdal (figure by N.H. Nielsen, Museum Silkeborg; contains data from the Danish Geodata Agency); b) Tollund Man's large intestine (photograph courtesy of the Danish National Museum); c) the well-preserved head of Tollund Man (photograph by A. Mikkelsen); d) the original honey glass jar in which the contents of the large intestine were kept until 2018; e) the remaining 140ml of the large intestine content (d–e photographs by N.H. Nielsen, Museum Silkeborg). - Sputnik International
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a) Map showing the location of Tollund Man's discovery in Bjældskovdal (figure by N.H. Nielsen, Museum Silkeborg; contains data from the Danish Geodata Agency); b) Tollund Man's large intestine (photograph courtesy of the Danish National Museum); c) the well-preserved head of Tollund Man (photograph by A. Mikkelsen); d) the original honey glass jar in which the contents of the large intestine were kept until 2018; e) the remaining 140ml of the large intestine content (d–e photographs by N.H. Nielsen, Museum Silkeborg).
© Photo : the Danish National MuseumReconstruction of the ingredients in Tollund Man's last meal, shown in quantities relative to the extant 140ml of intestinal contents: A) barley (Hordeum vulgare); B) pale persicaria (Persicaria lapathifolia s.l.); C) barley rachis segments; D) flax (Linum usitatissimum); E) black-bindweed (Fallopia convolvulus); F) fat hen (Chenopodium album); G) sand; H) hemp-nettles (Galeopsis sp.); I) gold-of-pleasure (Camelina sativa); J) corn spurrey (Spergula arvensis); K) field pansy (Viola arvensis) (photograph by P.S. Henriksen, the Danish National Museum).
Reconstruction of the ingredients in Tollund Man's last meal, shown in quantities relative to the extant 140ml of intestinal contents: A) barley (Hordeum vulgare); B) pale persicaria (Persicaria lapathifolia s.l.); C) barley rachis segments; D) flax (Linum usitatissimum); E) black-bindweed (Fallopia convolvulus); F) fat hen (Chenopodium album); G) sand; H) hemp-nettles (Galeopsis sp.); I) gold-of-pleasure (Camelina sativa); J) corn spurrey (Spergula arvensis); K) field pansy (Viola arvensis) (photograph by P.S. Henriksen, the Danish National Museum). - Sputnik International
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Reconstruction of the ingredients in Tollund Man's last meal, shown in quantities relative to the extant 140ml of intestinal contents: A) barley (Hordeum vulgare); B) pale persicaria (Persicaria lapathifolia s.l.); C) barley rachis segments; D) flax (Linum usitatissimum); E) black-bindweed (Fallopia convolvulus); F) fat hen (Chenopodium album); G) sand; H) hemp-nettles (Galeopsis sp.); I) gold-of-pleasure (Camelina sativa); J) corn spurrey (Spergula arvensis); K) field pansy (Viola arvensis) (photograph by P.S. Henriksen, the Danish National Museum).
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Reconstruction of the Tollund Man on display at the Silkeborg Museum
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Photomicrograph of Tollund Man's gut content (photograph by P.S. Henriksen, the Danish National Museum).
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a) Map showing the location of Tollund Man's discovery in Bjældskovdal (figure by N.H. Nielsen, Museum Silkeborg; contains data from the Danish Geodata Agency); b) Tollund Man's large intestine (photograph courtesy of the Danish National Museum); c) the well-preserved head of Tollund Man (photograph by A. Mikkelsen); d) the original honey glass jar in which the contents of the large intestine were kept until 2018; e) the remaining 140ml of the large intestine content (d–e photographs by N.H. Nielsen, Museum Silkeborg).
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Reconstruction of the ingredients in Tollund Man's last meal, shown in quantities relative to the extant 140ml of intestinal contents: A) barley (Hordeum vulgare); B) pale persicaria (Persicaria lapathifolia s.l.); C) barley rachis segments; D) flax (Linum usitatissimum); E) black-bindweed (Fallopia convolvulus); F) fat hen (Chenopodium album); G) sand; H) hemp-nettles (Galeopsis sp.); I) gold-of-pleasure (Camelina sativa); J) corn spurrey (Spergula arvensis); K) field pansy (Viola arvensis) (photograph by P.S. Henriksen, the Danish National Museum).
Plant residue deterioration blocked further progress after previous examinations revealed the presence of barley, flax, pale persicaria, and gold-of-pleasure seed porridge, as well as 16 other plant species. While plant macrofossils, pollen, non-pollen palynomorphs, steroid indicators, and proteins were all examined in the current research.
“Back in 1950, they only looked at the well preserved grains and seeds, and not the very fine fraction of the material,” Nielsen earlier told NBC News. “But now we have better microscopes, better ways of analysing the material and new techniques. So that means that we could get more information out of it.”
The team added in the research that they'd looked for components that could be related to rituals, and investigated whether the weed seeds, which were also found in many other bodies which met the same fate, could represent a food shortage, and looked into Iron Age health and sanitation as well as cooking habits in this re-investigation.
Previous evidence suggested that Tollund Man's last meal did not include meat, but they discovered that the "coprostanol:5-stigmastanol peak-area ratio of 3:1 represents a zoosterol level higher than in herbivores," implying that Tollund Man's last meal included both cholesterol-containing and plant-based foods.
Five peptides unique to bony fish were found, offering "clear evidence of the consumption of fish as part of the last meal," according to the research, which considered Bjaeldskovdal's closeness to a lake and watercourses.
All in all, Tollund Man's final supper did not reveal any signs of a serious food shortage, according to the scientists. And the worms in his intestines are likely the sign of the man had previously consumed raw or undercooked meat infested with tapeworm cysts.
"Future improved residue analyses will undoubtedly add further detail concerning the gut contents, diet and, perhaps, manner of death of Northern European bog bodies, and hence contribute to our understanding of life in the Danish Early Iron Age," the researchers concluded.
People who were placed in acidic peat bogs were naturally mummified and sometimes well-preserved, providing scientists with a thorough and unique view into daily life at the time, including health, diet, death, and a final supper.
Tollund Man, who is thought to be between the ages of 30 and 40 at the time of his death, had previously been hanged and thrown into the peat-cutting pit. While his death seems noteworthy, as scientists determine it to have been a sacrifice, the authors of the study state that he did not appear to have ingested anything "special" in preparation for the sacrifice, such as hallucinogens or pain medications.
The bog body was discovered in Bjaeldskovdal during peat cutting in 1950, and his stomach and intestinal tract were taken during forensic exams that year, before the contents of different regions of his gut were extracted separately in 1951.
As of now, given the fact that technologies for the preservation of organic materials were not so developed in the 1950s, only a perfectly preserved head remained of the original body, while the rest of the organic tissue of the body itself was decomposed. The Tollund Man is exhibited in a museum with an exact copy of the body and the original head.
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