Lindow Manchester

Anything but a Bog Standard Landscape: Restoring Lindow Moss
Prof Anthony Jones opens the workshop

Prof Anthony Jones opens the workshop

It is a few years now since I have been in Wilmslow but I was absolutely delighted to be invited to a workshop about the future of Lindow Moss at the Friends House on Thursday 3rd April by Professor Emeritus John Handley of University of Manchester. John Handley is Professor of Landscape and Environmental Planning at the University of Manchester, and is involved in a collaborative initiative with Transition Wilmslow, Cheshire Wildlife Trust and others to explore a more constructive future for Lindow Moss. They are working to secure the restoration of the current peat working area as a self-sustaining wetland habitat and to conserve and interpret the surrounding peatland landscape. The workshop was the first step in trying to bring people together to discuss the development of a ‘New Vision for Lindow Moss’.

Peat extraction 2007 (photo: B.Sitch)

Peat extraction 2007 (photo: B.Sitch)

The organizers wanted members of the archaeological community to be part of this initiative. They kindly invited me because I’d worked on the Museum’s Lindow Man exhibition in 2008-9 and because Manchester Museum has hosted Lindow Man three times for temporary exhibitions since his discovery in August 1984. In fact as one of the speakers reminded us, it will soon be the 30th anniversary of his discovery on Lindow Moss and surely that deserves recognition, doesn’t it? Prof.Handley read an excerpt from a short article by Rick Turner, the archaeologist whose painstaking detective work led to the discovery of Lindow Man’s body.

Many different groups and interests were represented in the audience

Many different groups and interests were represented in the audience

The proceedings were opened by Prof Handley and Tony Evans of Saltersley Common Preservation Society. John talked about the development of the landscape since the time of the last glaciation. Colonization of what was an area of woodland by sphagnum moss during the Mesolithic period killed the trees and created a raised bog. The exploitation of the peat deposits for fuel from at least as early as the Middle Ages resulted in the creation of distinctive field boundaries called moss ‘rooms’. Prof.Handley described this as one of the best-preserved landscapes of this type that he is aware of in Britain, and yet, astonishingly, it is not protected by designation of any kind.

This lack of recognition is compounded locally by the confusion between Lindow Moss and Lindow Common. If a fire is reported at the former, journalists apparently turn up at the latter! After the two opening addresses the participants were invited to join one of four sub-groups which went away for discussion and then reported back in a plenary session. I joined the ‘Education and Interpretation’ which did not have as many people as the other sub-groups. The photo below shows (left to right) local authors Christine Pemberton and Matthew Hyde, Prof Anthony Jones, Tony Evans and Gary, our Chairman for the sub-group.

Sub-group discussion about  education and interpretation. Local authors Matthew Hyde and Christine Pemberton are sitting on the left.

Sub-group discussion about education and interpretation. Local authors Matthew Hyde and Christine Pemberton are sitting on the left.

We had a wide-ranging discussion about what we should be trying to communicate and how to go about doing it. Without wanting to pre-empt the more formal report that will be made, we talked about a multi-disciplinary report that included all the subject disciplines in which Lindow Moss is important: archaeology because of Lindow Man, natural history, ecology because of the unique fauna and flora that live in a bog, and many others too. Christine reminded us that historically the moss was a place of refuge for people who had nowhere else to go.

Gypsey Taylor, Morley Green

Gypsey Taylor, Morley Green (photo: Christine Pemberton)

We said it was important to put Lindow Moss on the map, and ensure everyone knew where and what it was. We felt that people would be more likely to support the proposals if they could see that there were practical benefits.   By stopping the peat extraction the moss could recover and what Prof Handley called ‘keystone species’ re-colonize the wet areas. If rare plants, animals such as water voles, and birds and insects returned the moss could become a centre for bio-diversity, eco-tourism and education. There could be eco-friendly sculpture, demonstrations of traditional wood crafts and art and music. Stephen Vaughn has already captured the stillness and apparently timeless quality of the peat bog in a series of beautiful photographs.

Photo of Lindow Moss by Vaughan

Photo of Lindow Moss by Stephen Vaughan

More practically, by maintaining the water table, problems with subsidence would be avoided by local residents. We also felt there would be health benefits for people using the moss for recreation.   I kind of got ‘volunteered’ into reporting back to the main group. Many interesting suggestions were made, including one to build an Iron Age roundhouse at Lindow Moss but there were too many for this blog to list in detail; but one of the practical things to come out of the day was the proposal to commemorate what will be the 30th anniversary of the discovery of Lindow Man in August 2014. Other ‘quick win’ proposals suggest themselves: joining in the Festival of Archaeology in July or Heritage Open Days in September. Other special interest groups will have their own dates for events and activities so that a multi-disciplinary programme for Lindow Moss could be put together quite quickly to help promote the initiative.

It was a very positive day and we now look forward to the dayschool on 18th October 2014. Richard Turner, who as the former Cheshire County Archaeologist played such a key role in the discovery and conservation of Lindow Man, has already agreed to take part. It is hoped to include a contribution from Manchester Museum too at the event . You don’t have to have attended the workshop in order to go to the Day School, which is seen as a free standing educational event, aimed at generating interest amongst the public and profile-raising for the ‘New Vision for Lindow Moss’ initiative.


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.


Lindow Man Dayschool at The Manchester Museum
October 23, 2008, 9:07
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There will be an evening lecture on Friday the 14th of November with Professor Ronald Hutton and continuing in the form of a dayschool on Saturday 15th November.

click here to get the lindow_man_manchester_museum_dayschool poster pdf document

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