Lindow Man – What Killed England’s Oldest Celebrity?
Lindow Man, officially known as Lindow II, is the name given to a bog body that was discovered in Cheshire, North West England. Radiocarbon dating of Lindow Man shows that he lived around the 1st century AD. Additionally, examination of the body shows that Lindow Man died a violent death.
It is unclear, however, as to why he was killed in the first place. In any case, after Lindow Man’s death, his body was thrown into a pool in a bog. As a result of the bog’s conditions, the body was well-preserved and eventually unearthed during the 1980s.
The Discovery of Lindow Man
The modern story of Lindow Man begins in 1984. In August that year, Lindow Man was discovered by workers of a peat-cutting company on the edge of Lindow Moss (hence the name of the bog body), near Wilmslow in Cheshire, North West England. The initial discovery was made on the 1st of August by Andy Mould, a commercial peat cutter.
The area of Lindow Moss where Lindow Man was discovered. (Roger Gittins / CC BY-SA 2.0)
Mould saw something like a lump of wood on the conveyor belt of the shredding machine. Having removed the object, he threw it, and when the lump hit the ground, the peat fell off to reveal a human foot.
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Lindow Man's right foot. (Einsamer Schütze / CC BY-SA 3.0)
This was not the first time Mould made such a gruesome discovery. On the 13th of May 1983, Mould and another colleague, Stephen Dooley, spotted a lump that looked like a small, black, leather football. The two men took the lump off the conveyor belt and brought it to Ken Harewood, the manager of the peat-cutting company.
As the men were curious to know what the object might be (they even joked that it might be a dinosaur egg), they washed it. It turned out that the lump was neither a football nor a dinosaur egg, but a human skull.
Although the jaw was missing, it still had skin and some hair attached to it, as well as an eyeball. Naturally, the police were contacted.
Initially, it was thought that the skull belonged to a woman by the name of Malika Maria de Fernandez, the wife of a local man by the name of Peter Reyn-Bardt, who lived not far from Lindow Moss. When de Fernandez mysteriously disappeared in 1961, it was suspected that Reyn-Bardt had murdered her. There was, however, insufficient evidence for Reyn-Bardt to be charged with murder.
Although Reyn-Bardt’s garden, where de Fernandez was thought to have been buried, was dug, no human remains were unearthed. When the skull was found in 1983, the police believed that they had the evidence needed, and confronted Reyn-Bardt with this new discovery. This led to Reyn-Bardt’s confessing that he had murdered his wife.
According to Reyn-Bardt’s confession, he had met his wife in 1959. At that time, he was an airline employee, while de Fernandez was a portrait artist who enjoyed traveling. Just hours after meeting, Reyn-Bardt proposed and the couple married four days later.
The marriage, however, was one of convenience, as it gave Reyn-Bardt respectability with his employers, while de Fernandez, as the wife of an airline employee, benefitted from cheap flights abroad. The marriage did not last and the couple separated before the end of 1959. Subsequently, Reyn-Bardt settled into a cottage with his male lover, while de Fernandez continued traveling using her husband’s discounted airfare.
This mutually beneficial arrangement seems to have broken down in 1961. One day, in June of that year, de Fernandez came to Reyn-Bardt’s cottage. Although the two began chatting amicably, de Fernandez began demanding money from Reyn-Bardt and threatened to expose his homosexuality if he refused.
A fight ensued, which resulted in de Fernandez’s death. According to Reyn-Bardt, he grabbed her shoulders and only realized that de Fernandez was dead after he stopped shaking her. Reyn-Bardt confessed that he chopped the body up with an axe and buried the parts in a drainage trench on the edge of the Lindow Moss peat bog.
Despite Reyn-Bardt’s confession, there was one issue that continued nagging Detective Inspector George Abbott, the police officer in charge of the case. The rest of de Fernandez’s body was nowhere to be found, although the bog had been carefully searched. Therefore, he had the skull sent to Oxford University for further analysis.
As a result of radiocarbon dating, it was found that the skull was 1,700 years old, too old for it to belong to de Fernandez. When this was revealed, Reyn-Bardt tried to recant his confession, but was convicted of murder nonetheless and spent the rest of his life in prison.
When the foot was found by Mould in 1984, the police were contacted again and the foot was taken away for examination. A local journalist, however, was tipped off and she contacted Rick Turner, the county archaeologist for Cheshire. The next day, Turner was at Lindow Moss and was shown where the previous day’s peat had been taken from.
As Turner was walking along the uncut sections, he saw a “flap of dark, tanned skin projecting from below”. The archaeologist reported his find to the police and was granted a day to excavate the remains. On the 6th of August, the site was recorded and sampled, the limits of the remains were established, and the bog body was removed in a block of peat.
Workers remove the remains of Lindow Man from Lindow Moss, 1984. (Trustees of the British Museum)
The Condition of Lindow Man’s Remains
Lindow Man soon became a celebrity, as he was Britain’s first bog body. Incidentally, two other human remains, Lindow III and Lindow IV were later discovered in the same bog. The former is a fragmented headless body, while the latter the thigh of an adult man, possibly Lindow Man’s missing leg.
After its discovery, various studies were conducted by experts on Lindow Man. As a result, we have a fair amount of data about him. Eventually, Lindow Man was put on permanent display in the British Museum. Occasionally, Lindow Man is loaned to other museums as a temporary exhibition.
From the analysis of Lindow Man, it was found that he was a healthy male who died in his mid-20s. In life, he would have stood at a height of 5 feet 7 inches (168 centimeters). He was well-built and would have weighed around 132 pounds (60 kilograms).
Lindow Man had a beard and moustache, which is supposed to be unusual for a bog body. In addition, it was found that Lindow Man’s beard was trimmed several days before his death. In addition, his fingernails were manicured.
The reconstructed face of Lindow Man. (Nev1 / Fair Use)
These two observations have led to the speculation that Lindow Man may have been a person who had some wealth and social standing. Lindow Man was found to be naked, with the exception of a fox fur armband.
Like other bog bodies, the skin of Lindow was preserved by the conditions of the bog. Instead of decaying, his skin was turn into leather with a yellowish-brown hue. This is due to the fact that bogs are cold, acidic environments lacking in oxygen.
In other words, these are places hostile to microorganisms that cause bodies to decompose. In addition, sphagnum mosses, which grow in bogs, help in the formation of bog bodies. When these mosses die, they release a sugary substance that functions as a tanning agent.
As a consequence, skin, as well as tendons, ligaments, and muscles, are turned into leather. While the skin is turned into a yellowish-brown hue, the hair becomes red.
On the other hand, the acidic condition of bog causes other materials, such as most clothes, to dissolve. This might explain why Lindow Man was found naked.
Studying the Cause of Lindow Man’s Death
The physical analysis of Lindow Man also indicates that he died a violent death. The injuries sustained by Lindow Man prior to his death include a v-shaped cut on the top of his head measuring 1.4 inches (3.5 centimeters), a possible further cut at the back of his head, ligature marks on the back of the neck (caused by the tightening of a sinew cord found around the neck), a possible wound on the right side of his neck, a possible stab wound in the upper right chest, and a broken neck, which is believed to be the cause of Lidow Man’s death.
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The top of the Lindow Man's head. The V-shaped cut can be seen at the lower center. (Geni / CC BY-SA 4.0)
The analysis of Lindow Man’s injuries was not limited to observations with the naked eye. For example, xeroradiography revealed that Lindow Man was hit on the top of his head by a relatively blunt object.
As a result, his skull was fractured and fragments were driven into the brain. Swelling around the edges of the wound suggest that Lindow Man did not die immediately sustaining this injury but may have survived for several hours afterwards.
Other analyses conducted on Lindow Man included radiocarbon dating and Scanning Electron Microscopy (SEM) of his stomach contents. Thanks to the former, we know that Lindow Man died between 2 BC and 119 AD, shortly before or after the Roman conquest of that part of Iron Age Britain, which occurred in the early 60s. The latter revealed the last meal of Lindow Man.
It was found that just before his death, Lindow Man ate a flat, unleavened griddle cake baked over an open fire. Several grains of mistletoe pollen were also found, although it is unclear if it was accidentally or deliberately ingested.
These pollen grains also suggest that Lindow Man died in late winter or early spring. From the observations and analyses, archaeologists have made speculations on the reason for Lindow Man’s death.
The most common theory regarding the reason for Lindow Man’s death is that he was a victim of a human sacrifice. For example, some of the cake found in Lindow Man’s stomach was observed to be badly-scorched, which brought to mind the ‘burned bannock ritual’. It has been speculated the cake in Lindow Man’s stomach may have been a burned bannock, a coarsely grounded barley griddle cake used for Druidic rituals.
Remains of a burned bannock were found in Lindow Man’s stomach. (Skorp~commonswiki / Public Domain)
After the cake was baked, it was broken into pieces and placed into a leather bag, which was passed around. In addition, a section of the cake was allowed to scorch. Each person took a piece of cake out of the bag and the one who got the scorched piece was sacrificed to the gods.
The mistletoe in Lindow Man’s stomach support this as well, since the ancient Celts normally celebrated the festival of Beltane on the 1st of May, during which sacrifices were made. Alternatively, human sacrifices were made in times of great danger, such as when the Romans invaded. This view may be supported by the radiocarbon dates.
Nevertheless, the radiocarbon dates are not accurate enough to say whether Lindow Man died before or after the Roman conquest. Incidentally, human sacrifice was outlawed by the Romans when Britain was conquered. It has also been suggested that Lindow man may have been a victim of a violent crime or perhaps an executed criminal.
Researchers examine the remains of Lindow Man at the British Museum. (Trustees of the British Museum)
The Preservation of Lindow Man’s Remains
One aspect of Lindow Man that has not received as much attention as the scientific investigations is the way he was preserved following his removal from the bog. When bog bodies were first discovered in Europe during the 17 th century, they were normally given a Christian reburial and the remains decayed naturally.
During the 19th century, bog bodies received greater attention from scientists, though preserving them once they were removed from their original burial places was a challenge. In 1871, for instance, German scientists attempted to smoke the remains of Rendswühren Man. Although this helped to preserve the body, the dehydration caused it to shrink.
By 1984, however, preservation methods had improved. Lindow Man was first immersed in a solution of polyethylene glycol, which prevented the body from shrinking when it was dried out. After this step, he was wrapped in cling film and frozen. Finally, he was freeze-dried in order to remove water.
Lindow Man is undoubtedly a highly significant archaeological discovery. Apart from being Britain’s first bog body, the various scientific investigations conducted on Lindow Man have resulted in a greater understanding of his final moments.
Nevertheless, there are still many questions that have yet to be answered, as well as those that might never be answered. For instance, although it is commonly though the Lindow Man was a victim of human sacrifice, it is not known whether he was a willing sacrifice or not, the reason for his sacrifice, and the gods to whom he was sacrificed.
Lindow Man on display at the British Museum in 1996. (Trustees of the British Museum / CC BY-NC-SA 4.0)
Top image: Close up of Lindow Man. Source: Verity / CC BY-SA 2.0.
By Wu Mingren
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