Lindow Manchester

Lindow Man Dayschool: Ripples and Reflections


There is a long tradition of running autumn day schools about aspects of Classical archaeology and ancient history at the Manchester Museum. This year’s day school was different because it celebrated the Museum’s current temporary exhibition: Lindow Man a Bog Body Mystery. Thanks to funding for the project from the Heritage Lottery Fund and the Welcome Trust, the day school could be offered free of charge, and about fifty people attended.  The Lindow Man exhibition has attracted a fair amount of criticism since it opened in April 2008, either because of its radical design or because of the approach that has been taken, i.e. to look at Lindow Man through the eyes of a range of people whose lives have been affected by his discovery. The implication of this “multiple voices” approach is that Lindow Man means different things to different people and that many different interpretations are possible, especially when the voices of marginalized groups are taken into account. This point was taken up in an eloquent and spellbinding address – Why Lindow Man Matters – on the Friday evening by the keynote speaker Ronald Hutton, Professor of History at the University of Bristol. Professor Hutton has long questioned aspects of the orthodox interpretation of Lindow Man, i.e. that the body dated from the later Iron Age and that Lindow Man suffered a triple death. His plea for historians and archaeologists to be less adversarial and to be more tolerant of different interpretations got the day school off to a splendid start made all the more remarkable for the fact that he made no use of audio visual equipment and kept his audience captivated.


On Saturday morning Jody Joy, Curator of the Iron Age at the British Museum, explored the evidence of Lindow Man’s death and placed this within the prehistoric tradition of making offerings in water. Jody, who has recently completed his doctorate thesis on Iron Age mirrors, spoke about the associations that water, and the creatures that live in wetland environments, may have had for native Britons. This, he argued, would explain the presence of stylised birds’ heads on the Wandsworth shield boss, which is also on temporary loan to the Manchester Museum.


The next speaker, Bryan Sitch, Curator of Archaeology at the Manchester Museum, took up one of the challenges in understanding how Lindow Man’s death could have taken place during the Roman period, even though human sacrifice had been proscribed. Drawing upon the theoretical work of French polymath Rene Girard, Bryan suggested that Lindow Man had been put to death as a scapegoat by members of his community in the grip of a ‘sacrificial crisis’. Traditionally the mob justified its violent killing of an innocent victim by accusing the dead person of the worst crimes imaginable, which might explain why the Roman administration did not intervene. Sacrificial theory might even offer a new way of understanding the legend of the Alderley Edge wizard.



Emma Restall Orr spoke about Pagan perspectives on Lindow Man. Pagans seek to understand and celebrate the man’s life rather than his death. Emma’s presentation, again delivered without notes or audio-visual aids, was a poetic appeal for us all to appreciate Lindow Man as he had lived his life, viscerally, and with a profound awareness of, and respect for, the environment. Emma contributed objects to the current Lindow Man exhibition and is one of the seven people interviewed as part of the project.


After lunch there was a showing of a short film or ‘Collective Conversation’ involving staff from the Manchester Museum and Dr Helen Rees Leahy, Director of the Centre for Museology at the University of Manchester.  The Manchester Museum regularly films conversations between members of the public, researchers and the staff about objects in the collections. They are available on U-tube. The Collective Conversation shown at the day school compared the current Lindow Man exhibition with those of 1987 and 1991. Sue Bulleid and Tom Goss of the Museum’s education team shared their memories of the earlier exhibitions and Dr Leahy commented on changes in curatorial practice over the last 25 years as seen in this unique trio of exhibitions. She wondered whether the difficulties some visitors experienced with the current exhibition were the result of the Museum moving away from its authoritative editorial stance. She said the Museum had allowed the voices of the various contributors to take centre stage without putting in place a guiding framework. In the discussion that followed the film some members of the audience expressed their disappointment that the optimism and goodwill created by the consultation about the project in February 2007 had not been followed through.


The last speaker was Prof Don Brothwell, Emeritus Professor in the Department of Archaeology at the University of York. Don was part of the team, which studied Lindow Man’s body at the British Museum in 1984. Extracts from an interview with Don feature in the current exhibition.  Don compared Lindow Man with other bog bodies and human remains from around the world and discussed the evidence for how they had died. The beautifully preserved head of Tollund Man, who was hung, looks as though he is sleeping. Huldremose Woman’s death, in comparison, must have been deeply traumatic. The evidence suggests several attempts were made to hack off her arm. The horribly violent nature of some of the deaths and the likelihood that a number of people were involved in these executions were shocking.


The dayschool ended with an open discussion about various points raised during the presentations. A number of people asked whether Lindow Man could be repatriated permanently to the North West from the British Museum. This begs the question of where Lindow Man would go if he were to be returned. Were there ever to be an argument that Lindow Man should be repatriated to the Manchester Museum, the request  would have to be made by the University of Manchester, and then only with a great deal of public support. Prof. Piotr Bienkowski, Deputy Director at the Manchester Museum, referred to agreements made with indigenous peoples in different parts of the world in which they give their consent for institutions to hold cultural property that was originally held by those communities. He said claims on the dead did not have to be made on the basis of genealogy. This might provide a way for the present Lindow Moss community still to exercise a degree of control even if it was unlikely that the facilities to display Lindow Man could be created on site or close by.


Over fifty people attended the dayschool and the feedback from the event has been very positive. It was certainly a stimulating and inclusive day, somewhat painful for the Museum at times but nonetheless constructive. Thanks are due to Phyllis Stoddart and Joyce Tyldesley for organizing the day school.



2 Comments so far
Leave a comment

This year’s Manchester Museum dayschool is going to be about archaeology and evolution, as you might expect in this year of Darwin and the celebrration of his work. It will be held on 14th November and there will be a keynote address on the Friday evening. Speakers are being contacted and we hope to announce details shortly.

Comment by bryansitch

Visitors to the Blog may be interested to know that the subject of next year’s Manchester Museum archaeology dayschool is going to be archaeology in China. This will coincide with one of the Museum’s temporary exhibition projects in partnership with the British Museum – “China Journey to the East”.

Comment by bryansitch

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: