Filed under: Anniversary, Lindow Moss, Pagans | Tags: Bog bodies, contested remains, human remains, landscape archaeology, Lindow Man, Lindow Moss, New Vision for LIndow Moss, offerings, peat, Transition Wilmslow
On the 1st August, it was the 30th anniversary of the discovery of Lindow Man, who was found during peat-cutting at Lindow Moss. To commemorate the event and raise awareness of the current state of the bog a walk was organised by Wilmslow Transition Group, on the early morning of Saturday 2nd August. As a museology student researching public engagement with archaeology, I was keen to participate and visit Lindow Moss, and thanks to the kindness of the organisers I was allowed to join the walk.
Wilmslow Transition is part of the Transition network, which connects and inspires a series of initiatives and projects across the UK with the aim to develop a sustainable future within local communities. One of the objectives of Transition Wilmslow is the restoration and protection of the Lindow Moss, once a bog with a rich fauna and flora, whose rich natural and cultural heritage is menaced by intensive peat extraction. The first workshop with different stakeholders was held earlier this April, and an account of it can be found in an earlier blog post by Bryan Sitch. The Lindow Moss Dawn Walk was a second successful initiative, led by Professors John Handley, Anthony Jones and Pippa Tyrrell from the University of Manchester, and that brought together about 60 participants for this two-hour itinerary across the moss, during which we heard different presentations and descriptions of the bog and Lindow Man.
The day began at 4.30am, still before lights, when we met in a car park and started to make our way through the paths of the Lindow Common. We took the track running along the Black Lake, and soon the first reader stopped us introducing the bog’s atmosphere with a short text describing the morning fog on this area close to the lake and the moss. After another few minutes walking, we paused for another reading, which encouraged us to reflect on the environment of the moss and its rich history.
We reached Lindow Moss just in time for the sunrise, and here we had the opportunity to learn more about the bog and Lindow Man. We heard the history of the moss, how it was formed and how much it has changed throughout the years, due to peat-extraction works. After that the focus shifted on the main reason we had walked until there at such an early hour: the following readings introduced us to the phenomenon of bog bodies and to the discovery of Lindow Man. We concluded reading a paper by Richard Turner, the archaeologist who discovered the body: his words recalled the discovery, the first studies, and the importance of Lindow Man for the researches on bog bodies, and reminded us of the importance of protecting the natural and cultural heritage represented by the moss.
We were then ready to walk across the bog and get closer to the exact place were Lindow Man was found. Here, druids from the Wildwood Seed Group were waiting for us, and they welcomed us on site and invited us to take part in a ceremony in his memory. The rite was composed of two parts: a remembrance and an healing sections, aiming both to commemorate the bog body and to encourage a better protection of the moss. Consequently, the first part included a commemoration of the ancestors, and included a druid who spoke for Lindow Man, deprecating the current conditions of the bog and encouraging the presents to take action. Therefore followed the healing part of the ceremony, during which waters of different springs were offered to restore the bog. Concluded this ceremony, flowers were left near the finding site of Lindow Man, and we were then prepared to walk back towards Wilmslow.
Before getting there though, we had the chance to listen to a last reading, which highlighted also the wider landscape we were immersed, there on the top of a small hill, originated from a refilling of the bog, from where we could see Alderley Edge and the Pennines, emerging from the mist.
In conclusion, despite the threatening weather forecast and a very early rising, the event was a success, with many members of the community coming together to remember the discovery of Lindow Man and taking interest in their local natural and cultural heritage. The next event held by Wilmslow Transition as part of their work on Lindow Moss will be a day-school on the 18th October.
Filed under: Lindow Man Exhibition, Pagans | Tags: controversial topics, Creating Engaging Displays, Lindow Man, Lindow Man exhibitions, Museum Practice, offerings
During the consultation in advance of Lindow Man a Bog Body Mystery it was suggested that the Museum include an offerings box so that those who wished could leave an offering to honour Lindow Man and the ancestors. The Museum felt it was important to respond positively to the public consultation and to facilitate the leaving of material of a more thoughtful or personal nature that some visitors might want to leave as a mark of respect. These, we were advised, might include aesthetically or spiritually significant objects such as artwork, carved wood or interesting stones. The offerings box created another opportunity for visitors to engage in a tangible way with the subject of human remains. The offerings box was located close to Lindow Man’s case next to a comments card board where visitors could also leave a personal message.
Visitors to prehistoric sites sometimes leave offerings such as flowers but these are of such an ephemeral nature that they often disappear or are disposed of before any record can be made. Such material left on sites is liable to be removed and disposed of as rubbish. However, the Puig des Molins Museum in Ibitha displays material from the religious site dedicated to the goddess Tanit at Culleram, Sant Joan de Labritja, in the north-eastern part of the island. Offerings in the Lindow Man exhibition in 2008-9 are potentially of academic interest because so little work has been done in this area and it made the recording of such material important for future research.
Visitors left a wide range of material. By far the greatest single category of offering was coins. This may say something about the values of modern society in that coins appear to be the most appropriate way of making an offering. It can be compared with throwing coins in a fountain, which is well attested archaeologically. In one of the earlier Lindow Man exhibitions in 1987 or 1991 there was a fountain which gathered more money than the Museum donations box (pers.comm. Prof. John Prag)! The money was estimated to be of the value of £300. Leaving something in the offerings box was one way of showing respect regardless of one’s religious beliefs. For example, visitors to a Christian church sometimes light a candle or make the sign of the cross regardless of their religion.
Notable amongst the offerings were personal messages and poems dedicated to Lindow Man; personal accoutrements such as a mirror or a cigarette lighter; and leaves, seed heads and other organic items. It is surprising how many personal accessories associated with hair or personal decoration, such as hair grips, “bobbles” and head bands, as well as badges are present. Many of the objects are small, portable personal items of modest value, precisely the kind of thing one might pull out of one’s pocket or hand bag or remove from one’s clothing or person if the opportunity arose to make an impromptu offering. More thoughtful and aesthetically pleasing items such as a flints, feathers, a rock crystal and a personally inscribed pebble were also recorded. However, two gold rings and a silver ring of some financial value were put in the offerings box, and considerable thought, clearly, went into preparing one of the most fascinating items in the offerings box collection: a fired clay fertility goddess with exaggerated breasts, stomach and thighs. The stomach is presented as an open bowl and contains moss, conjuring up associations with birth, rebirth and Lindow Moss as a womb in which Lindow Man is incubated. At a time when Transition Wilmslow is working on a new vision for Lindow Moss intended to bring about the rebirth of the peat bog, perhaps this symbolic Earth goddess/Mother figure is relevant in a way we could not have anticipated at the time of the Lindow Man a Bog Body Mystery exhibition. However, Some of the offerings may simply be rubbish and the ‘offerings’ list also includes bus and rail tickets, discarded receipts and sweet wrappers.
Readers of this blog may be interested to know that there will be a day-school called Lindow Moss: Origins and Future Prospects on 18th October 2014 and I have been invited to speak about Manchester Museum’s experience of running three temporary exhibitions about Lindow Man during the last 30 years. This will continue the work of raising the profile of Lindow Moss started at a public meeting about a ‘New Vision for Lindow Moss’ held in Wilmslow in April and furthered by the recent dawn commemoration of the thirtieth anniversary of the discovery of Lindow Man’s body. At the time of writing I am anticipating a guest blog written by someone who attended the ceremony so watch this space.
Filed under: Anniversary | Tags: Bog bodies, contested remains, controversial topics, human remains, landscape archaeology, Lindow Man, Lindow Man exhibitions, Lindow Moss, peat
It is surpassing strange to thank that it is already thirty years since the discovery of the body of Lindow Man. Peat diggers at the Lindow Moss site near Wilmslow to the south of Manchester made a most macabre discovery: a human leg turned up on their peat conveyor belt. Some years previously a local woman had discovered in mysterious circumstances and when a human head was discovered on the same conveyor belt the previous year Police arrested a local man. Although the head was shown to date from before the modern period the accused, who had confessed his crime, was charged with the murder and found guilty. So when the leg was found it was assumed that it might be the remains of the missing woman. However, it was first necessary to find the rest of the body and county archaeologist, Rick Turner, was able to trace the source of the remains back to the original excavation trench in the peat and there find a flap of skin sticking out of the side of the trench. A block of peat that the excavators hoped would contain the body was removed from the peat.
This is where Manchester Museum comes in. As chance would have it the only member of staff working that day was Velson Horie, the Museum’s senior conservator, and he gave advice and support to the recovery team. He is seen in white, top right in the photograph above. There followed an agonising wait to find out whether the body was ancient or modern, and the Police appear to have postponed an autopsy until the date had been clarified by radiocarbon-dating. This having been shown to be ancient, the Coroner ruled that the body was not a modern murder victim and Lindow Man, as he came to be known, was sent to the British Museum, which had the expertise, the facilities and funding to study and conserve the remains. Dr Ian Stead who was responsible for the BM’s Iron Age collections put together a team of experts who used the pioneering technology of CAT scanning to investigate the body.
The body was relatively well-preserved though incomplete. It had long been known from discoveries in Scandinavian peat bogs that organic remains in certain circumstances could be very well preserved. The decay of sphagnum moss creates sphagnan which has a similar effect on organic materials to tanning. The anaerobic conditions, the relatively cool temperatures and saturated conditions in the peat moss or bog all helped preserve the body, though not in its entirety. For instance, although the hands were not very well preserved, the finger nails were intact!
The body itself was preserved using polyethylene glycol (or PEG) and then freeze-dried for display in a specially designed display case. It even became possible to see what Lindow Man looked like because a facial reconstruction was created by Prof John Prag and Dr Richard Neave of the University of Manchester.
The findings of the study of Lindow Man’s body were sensational. Not only had he suffered blows to the head, there was also evidence of a ligature around the neck and a cut to the throat, although some archaeologists have questioned the evidence. To add to the heady mix there was also some mistletoe. A great deal has been made of the presence of just a few grains of mistletoe pollen but, as Jody Joy, Curator of the Iron Age at the British Museum, has pointed out, this was well within EU toxicity guidelines and wouldn’t have affected Lindow Man! The question of the significance of the mistletoe is symptomatic of the heated debates that characterised the interpretation about Lindow Man right from the start. The fact that he appears to have been naked apart from a fox skin armband, suggested to some that he was the victim of a robbery or a mugging. Others interpreted the trio of injuries as an act of human sacrifice in honour of three Celtic gods. Anne Ross and Don Robins in The Life and Death of a Druid Prince reconstructed the circumstances of Lindow Man’s death about the time of the suppression of the Boudiccan revolt against the Roman occupation. They offered the dramatic scenario of a human sacrifice following the destruction of the Druids on Anglesey and the defeat of Boudicca’s army in AD 60-1. The victim, Lindow Man, had remains of a burnt bannock or bread cake in his gut, which it was argued was evidence of the lottery by which he had been selected for sacrifice. The later refinement of the radiocarbon dating results to put Lindow Man into the early Roman period didn’t change matters because the Iron Age lifestyle continued into Roman times. One reading of the evidence would suggest he was put to death not to avert the Roman occupation but in response to it, in a violent reaffirmation of native spiritual beliefs. It is very interesting in this respect that Worsley Man, another, earlier, bog body discovery from the North West was dated to the early 2nd century AD.
This detailed study provided content for the first of three Lindow Man exhibitions at Manchester Museum. Perhaps in acknowledgement of the Museum’s support at the time of the excavation, and of the strength of local feeling in response to the removal of Lindow Man to London, the British Museum lent the body to Manchester Museum in 1987 and 1991, and most recently in 2008-9. In the 1980s Lindow Man was the subject of a repatriation campaign organised by Barbara O’Brien. The campaign featured a song sung by Lindow Primary School choir ‘Lindow Man we want you back again’. This was unsuccessful but in retrospect the materials it generated, including photographs of the visit to the recording studio, a campaign t-shirt and a copy of the somewhat cheesy song (think Grandad we love you but with archaeological lyrics), have been a boon to museology students seeking UK case studies of repatriation.
The repatriation campaign didn’t feature in Manchester Museum’s Lindow Man exhibitions of 1987 and 1991. They focused on the findings of the detailed study of Lindow Man and recreating his life and times. They proved to be extremely popular.
When the British Museum offered Lindow Man for a third loan in 2008-9 Manchester Museum was delighted to accept. The exhibition was generously supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund and the Wellcome Trust. The exhibition reflected the current debate about human remains in museums and other institutions. This was the first high profile exhibition I worked on at the Museum and in keeping with best practice I organised a consultation to which a wide range of people were invited. The findings of the consultation were that Lindow Man’s body should be displayed respectfully and that different ways of interpreting the body were presented in the exhibition. We invited seven people, including archaeologists, museum curators, a member of the Lindow community, peat diggers and a pagan to each present their perspective on the body. We invited people to comment on a number of questions we posed during the life of the exhibition such as ‘How do you think Lindow Man died?’ and ‘Should museums show human remains?‘. Some 12,500 comments cards were filled in by visitors.
However, the exhibition proved to be controversial. Even though it won an award for its innovative design, quite a lot of visitors felt it looked unfinished, and again, although it won a British Archaeological Award for its presentation of the issue of human remains, some visitors did not like the multi-vocal appr0ach to the interpretation. Given that the exhibition was intended to stimulate debate about the issue of human remains, the feedback might have been anticipated but it did stimulate a very heated debate – no bad thing in a university at which students are encouraged to see topics from different points of view, but somewhat uncomfortable for colleagues who were subjected to personal comments. The exhibition and its associated events and activities attracted 190,000 people and generated favourable reviews in museum and archaeology journals. It has also been discussed in a number of articles, more in fact than any other temporary exhibition that I have ever worked on. Not to mention the steady flow of under graduate and post graduate students wanting to feature the Lindow Man exhibition as a case study in their dissertations. The various recorded interviews with contributors, some of them filmed, remain an archive of fascinating social history material for future research.
I might also add that the return of Lindow Man to Manchester was celebrated in the arts and a surprising amount of poetry has been written, quite a lot of it I suspect, in response to the presence of an offering box in the last exhibition. It is little appreciated that at the time of Lindow Man a Bog Body Mystery, Manchester Museum also hosted a temporary exhibition about photography of Lindow Moss featuring work by the gifted photographer Stephen Vaughan. And what of the future? Visitors sometimes ask me if Lindow Man is going to return to Manchester and how would we display him if he did? Some reviewers have already stated that it could be an opportunity to review how Lindow Man has been displayed, the three exhibitions providing a unique sequence showing how museological practice has experimented in displaying human remains and the differing sensitivities to the exhibition of human remains in society that can now be evidenced.
Sadly in 2008 it was too late to develop Rene Girard’s work on scape-goating in relation to sacrifical theory, bog bodies and Lindow Man, but it is a topic I have spoken about in presentations to students and the public. perhaps there would be some mileage in exploring this approach in any exhibition proposal. But that’s a debate for another day, if the possibility of a loan should arise again, and I am by no means asking for it. However, the recent commemoration of the discovery in a dawn ceremony at Lindow Moss is bound to bring new interest to earlier debates about the interpretation and meaning of Lindow Man and where he should be. This event was a follow-up to a meeting held in Wilmslow in April to present a new approach to the Moss and its management, whereby peat extraction would cease and the original landscape environment be recreated. A dayschool will be held in Wilmslow on 18th October 2014 to explore the environmental history of Lindow Moss and the legacy of Lindow Man. Let’s be grateful that Lindow Man was discovered thirty years ago. One thing’s to be sure the debate about him is going to run on and on for another thirty years.
Filed under: Human remains, Lindow Man criticism, Lindow Man Exhibition | Tags: contested remains, controversial topics, human remains, Lindow Man, repatriation, Tiffany Jenkins
A new book appeared that discusses the treatment of human remains in museums. Written by Tiffany Jenkins, Contesting Human Remains in Museum Collections criticizes museums for hiding their mummies and other human remains even though they are popular with the public for fear of offending pagans and other minority groups.
The Manchester Museum was mentioned several times in articles about the publication of the book appeared at the time in the Daily Mail and Daily Telegraph. The Museum removed the head of Worsley Man from display and consulted with the public about the covering of Egyptian mummies a couple of years ago. Jenkins presents these and other examples involving the display of human remains as part of a radical change in policy by museums which, she says, have been unduly influenced by the claims of minority groups such as pagans.
Requests from indigenous communities in Australia, New Zealand and the Americas for the repatriation of human remains, together with public concern about the retention of organs in hospitals and pathology labs have contributed to the feeling that human remains deserve sensitive treatment. The Human Tissue Act, 2004 came into force to regulate their retention and storage.
Picking up on the perceived need to treat human remains sensitively many museums have written and implemented policies affecting material in their collections. Dr Jenkins says this is being driven by professional insecurity rather than public demand. Whilst it’s certainly true the majority of the public want human remains to continue to be displayed in museums there’s also a feeling that this should be done respectfully. There is a danger that museums’ attempts to consult with the public about how this can be achieved are dismissed as ‘political correctness’ or caving-in to pressure groups.
The process of consultation is sometimes mistaken for the end result – the trial covering, partial covering and display of uncovered mummies a few years ago was presented by local media as a final and unilateral decision on the part of the Museum, which was only overturned after public protest. I worked at Manchester Museum at the time and I understood this ‘covering up’ to have been part of a public consultation in order to see how visitors felt and which of the three different potential ways of displaying such remains visitors preferred. Such misunderstandings have made the free and open discussion about human remains much more difficult. As a university museum it is part of our role to stimulate debate, not only in the interests of students, but also to engage the public. If the act of stimulating debate about a current issue is mis-represented as ‘political correctness’ it effectively closes down discussion of that issue. I fear that it will inhibit museums from interacting with the public on this and other important issues.
What is being contested isn’t necessarily what happens to human remains but more inclusive methods of working by museums. That probably says more about the influence of old-fashioned ways of thinking about museum practice than it says about human remains per se.
Filed under: Publication | Tags: contested remains, Lindow Man, University Museums Group
An overview of the Manchester Museum’s Lindow Man: a Bog Body Mystery exhibition can be seen on the University Museums Group’s newly launched website: –
The case study gives a concise summary of the exhibition, its aims and objectives, refers to the criticism that greeted its opening and what we achieved.
The fact that we are still receiving enquiries about different aspects of the project is very gratifying. This morning I received an email from a PhD student at the Univeristy of Wales regarding Pagan involvement with archaeology and heritage, and the contestation of human remains. As the public consultation involved representatives from HAD (Honouring the Ancient Dead) I suspect we may be able to help the student concerned.
Filed under: Publication | Tags: Creating Engaging Displays, Lindow Man, Museum Practice
I bumped into Sam Alberti on the stairs yesterday who pointed out that ‘we’ (him and me that is) were ‘all over the latest issue of Museum Practice like a rash’. It deals with consultation, co-authorship and dealing with criticism. There’s quite a lot of discussion about the Manchester Museum’s consultation with the public over the Lindow Man display in Rebecca Atkinson’s articles (July issue). Look at Creating Engaging Displays. Then the Case Study on Dealing with Criticism. Or Challenging Preconceived Ideas.
Filed under: Awards | Tags: British Archaeological Awards, human remains, Lindow Man, Restitution
Stephen Walsh, Head of Fundraising and Development at the Manchester Museum, texted me yesterday afternoon to say that the Lindow Man exhibition had won in the ‘Best Innovation’ category at the British Archaeological Awards ceremony held at the British Museum. This was in respect of the work on engaging the public about the issue of human remains in archaeology and museums.
Stephen went down to London and received the award on behalf of the team that worked on the project. The British Archaeological Awards take place every two years so to some extent they are a retrospective on work that has already taken place.
Over a year after the exhbition closed the project continues to attract interest and to win awards. It is only a week or so since I spoke about the unsuccessful Lindow Man repatriation campaign at the Restitution and Museums conference here at the University of Manchester. Students at this and other universities continue to interview us about the project for their dissertations. And we won the Design Week 2009 Best Temporary Exhibition award. As one of my colleagues said this morning, from this perspective Lindow Man is the gift that just keeps on giving.