Lindow Manchester


Meeting with a Lindow Man Pioneer
July 21, 2008, 9:07
Filed under: Lindow Man Exhibition

A couple of months ago I gave a talk about Lindow Man and sacrificial theory. After the talk one of the audience came and introduced himself to me as J.B.Bourke, one of the co-authors of the 1986 report  Lindow Man the Body in the Bog. We arranged to meet again to discuss a number of points raised in my talk and  yesterday we had a very interesting discussion about Lindow Man and the forensic evidence. Mr Bourke is a fully qualified trained surgeon and worked for the Department of Surgery, University Hospital, Nottingham before he retired. One of the unanswered questions from my talk was whether it was likely more bodies would come to light at Lindow Moss. Whilst the late Iron Age and Roman peat horizons have been extracted it is not inconceivable that bodies from these periods will turn up in lower (archaeologically earlier) levels. Van der Sanden in his authoritative survey of bog bodies Through Nature to Eternity refers to earlier bog bodies, of Neolithic and even Mesolithic date, going back some 10,000 years. The latter are more likely to be accidental drownings than ritual deposits. 

Mr Bourke joined the forensic team led by Don Brothwell at the British Museum within a few weeks of Lindow Man’s discovery.  Mr Bourke believes the evidence supports garrotting. This would have ended Lindow Man’s life instantaneously, whilst the blow to the head would have killed him within half an hour. Though other experts have interpreted the forensic evidence differently, it is not contested that Lindow Man went into the bog very quickly after his death because there were no insects that feed upon corpses associated with his body.

Mr Bourke also shed light on whether Lindow Man was the clothed or naked when he entered the bog. When you see him on display at the Manchester Museum, Lindow Man’s body is naked but for a fox skin arm band around his upper left arm but it has been suggested that he might have been wearing linen clothing, which would have dissolved in the acidic water. Mr Bourke thinks it unlikely Lindow Man would have been so well-preserved if he had been wearing clothes, even linen garments, because the material would have shielded bacteria on the body from the antiseptic water and enabled decomposition to set in. Mr Bourke told me of two books about the Continental bog body evidence: – Grauballe Man-An Iron Age Bog Body Revisited by Pauline Asingh and Niels Lynnerup (ISBN 978-87-88415-29-2), 2007; and, The Scientific Study of Mummies by Arthur C. Aufderheide (ISBN 0 521 81826 5), Cambridge University Press, 2002.

Talking to Mr Bourke reminded me that the techniques available for forensic study were in their infancy over 20 years ago and that some of the  technology used in the study of Lindow Man was hard to find. Barts Hospital had the only CT scanner wide enough to take Lindow Man’s body and Wembley was the only place for an MRI scan at that time. Nowadays we more or less take this technology for granted. This reminds me that some months ago we talked about setting up a Collective Conversation to explore Lindow Man’s impact on the awareness of environmental  archaeology in the North West. This fascinating discussion makes me think we should  extend the conversation and include forensics too.

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