Lindow Manchester

Lindow Man Offerings

As part of the exhibition we arranged for a box in which people could leave special offerings to show their respect for Lindow Man. We talked at some length during the development of the project about how we would deal with the material that was left by visitors. What if it was organic in nature and it harboured pests that could represent a threat to the collections? What if a sharp blade was left and other visitors cut themselves?

>The last four months of running the exhibition has shown that some visitors have misunderstood what the offerings box is for. They sometimes place completed comments cards in the box or money or things that appear to be rubbish, like a sweet wrapper. Sometimes the material is more intriguing, such as origami paper figures, a carefully folded £5 note, a copy of a poem, a card with a poem and illustrations that express what Lindow Man means to that visitor.

There were also some botanical offerings. Yesterday Leander Wolstenholme, Curator of Botany at the Manchester Museum, looked at the plant remains. He identified them as leaves from a Euonymus that grows in the courtyard outside the Museum, a cone from a Douglas fir and the fruit from a London plane tree. Plane trees grow around the campus but the Douglas fir is not as common and someone must have made an effort to collect it and bring it to the Museum as an offering for Lindow Man.

This material is potentially of research interest. It is yet another way for people to interact with human remains in museums. It reminds me of the offerings left by visitors by the commemorative plaque at Ground Zero in honour of the members of the New York Fire Brigade who lost their lives when the Twin Towers were destroyed. Sometimes only a very personal statement or offering can express adequately a visitor’s feelings at a deeply moving site like Ground Zero or in the presence of human remains such as Lindow Man. There is a very real sense in the United States that Ground Zero, the African Slave Cemetery on Broadway and American Civil War battlefield sites like Gettysburg constitute “hallowed ground” and that a certain behaviour is appropriate there. Lindow Man clearly evokes those sorts of feelings in some of our visitors. Should we regard Lindow Moss as “hallowed ground”?


2 Comments so far
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To me, it is the composition of the body itself (rather than present-day humans’ reaction to it) which is of pre-eminent research interest. Do we have any evidence that his descendents’ DNA survives in the native population of Britain? What is the isotopic evidence for his lifetime’s travels around or beyond the north-west? I have not studied the available scientific literature on Lindow Man, being myself a botanist, but would prefer that museums would focus more on scientific enlightenment and exposition and the objects which support this process, and less on delving into the recesses of the human psyche.

Comment by John Edmondson

It was clear to us when we were preparing the exhbition late last year that science’s contribution to the understanding of Lindow Man was really important and that is why we invited Don Brothwell to take part. However, we also knew that our public consultation had asked us to explore Lindow Man’s meaning from different perspectives. Science is but one of the ways of understanding Lindow Man, and it was this approach in particular that informed the Museum’s Lindow Man exhibitions in 1987 and 1991. My colleagues and I felt that it would be interesting to try a different approach or rather different approaches, and that is why we also feature historical inquiry, personal relevance (nostalgia) and spiritual connection in our interpretation. The scientific approach clearly appeals to Mr Edmonson, but other people respond to other treatments. I think we were also influenced, though it was never stated explicitly, by modern cultural trends which question the ability of science to provide definitive and objective answers. Mary Midgely in her book, The Myths We Live By (2003), argues that Science does not stand separate from and in opposition to the myths by which we understand the world but contributes directly to them. When people invoke Science as being independently verifiable (she uses the word omnicompetent) they are really making a claim for their view be taken as authoritative. Who has authority to interpret Lindow Man? Who’s stories deserve to be told? These were certainly very important questions that we wanted to explore. The Lindow Man exhibition has tried to be inclusive and to reflect a number of different views and interpretations, though inevitably some visitors will have their own preferences as to which stories are told. We respect that.
P.S. D.N.A. research on Lindow Man has been considered in the past but I understand the bog water, which has preserved Lindow Man’s body so well in some ways, has been very destructive of his D.N.A. That may change of course as the science develops. Isotopic research is also being considered but I don’t think any actual sampling had been done when the exhibition was in preparation.

Comment by bryansitch

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