Haraldskær Woman

Haraldskær Woman

The Haraldskær Woman is an Iron Age bog body found naturally preserved in a bog in Jutland, Denmark. Labourers discovered the body in 1835 while excavating peat on the Haraldskær Estate. Disputes regarding the age and identity of this well-preserved body were settled in 1977, when radiocarbon dating determined conclusively that her death occurred around the fifth century BC. [ Archaeological Institute " [http://www.archaeology.org/online/features/bog/gunhild.html Haraldskaer Woman: Bodies of the Bogs] ", "Archaeology", Archaeological Institute of America, December 10, 1997.]

The body of the Haraldskær Woman was preserved due to the anaerobic conditions and acids of the peat bog in which she was found. Not only was the intact skeleton found, but also the skin and internal organs. This find was one of the earliest bog bodies to be studied by archaeologists.

Her body lies in state in an ornate glass-covered sarcophagus inside St. Nicolai Church in central Vejle, Denmark, where it is on permanent display. ["Fodor's Scandinavia", ninth edition, ed. by John D. Rambow, Fodor LLC (2002) ISBN 0-676-90203-0]

Mistaken identity

After discovery of the body, early theories of her identity centered around the persona of the Norwegian Queen Gunnhild, who lived around 1000 AD. Most of the bog bodies recovered indicate the victim died from a violent murder or ritualistic sacrifice. These theories are consistent with the body being hurled into a bog as opposed to burial in dry earth.

According to the "Jomsvikinga Saga", Queen Gunnhild was drowned in a bog on the orders of the Danish king Harald Bluetooth. [ Ashley, Michael. "The Mammoth Book of British Kings and Queens." Carroll & Graf Publishers, 1998. pg 443 ] Based upon the belief of her royal personage, King Frederick VI of Denmark commanded an elaborate sarcophagus be carved to hold her body.

This careful treatment of the Haraldskær Woman’s remains explains the excellent state of conservation of the corpse; [Harv|Archaeological Institute|1997|p=] conversely, Tollund Man, a later discovery, was not properly conserved and most of the body has been lost, leaving only the head as original remains in his display.

In 1842, the young Danish archaeologist J.J.A. Worsaae opposed the idea that Haraldskær Woman was Gunnhild. [Rowley-Conwy, Peter "From Genesis to Prehistory: The Archaeological Three Age System and Its Contested Reception in Denmark, Britain, and Ireland", Oxford University Press, 2007, pg 70 ISBN 0199227748] A pioneer in archaeological stratigraphy, Worsaae presented evidence that the Haraldskær Woman dated from the Iron Age. Later radiocarbon dating confirmed that the body was not Gunnhild, but rather a woman of the early Iron Age who lived about 490 BC. [Ebbesen, Klaus " Døden i mosen". Carlsen’s Forlag, Copenhagen 1986 pg. 7.] Aldhouse Green, Miranda J., "An Archaeology of Images", Routledge, London, England (2004) pg. 93 ISBN 0-415-25253-9] Even though Haraldskær Woman has not been connected to any royal lineage, her body lies in state in a display in the north transept of Saint Nicolai Church.

Details of Haraldskær Woman

The body of Haraldskær woman was found in a supine position in an excellent state of preservation. She was naked and her clothes, consisting of a leather cape and three woolen garments, had been placed on top of her.Hvass, Lone, "Dronning Gunhild - et moselig fra jernalderen", Sesam, (1998) 88 pg, pg. 26 ISBN 87-7801-725-4] The body was pinned down by hurdles of branches and wooden poles.Aldhouse-Green, Miranda, "Boudica Britannia", Pearson Education, 2006 pg 95-96, ISBN 1405811005 ] The complete skin envelope was intact as well as the internal organs. The body had a lancing wound to the knee joint area, where some object (possibly one of the sharp poles) penetrated to some depth. [Harv|Aldhouse|2004|p=93] Her skin was deeply bronzed with robust skin tone due to tannins in the peat, and all the body joints were preserved with overlying skin in a state as if she had died only recently. Doctors determined she had been about 50 years old when she died and in good health without signs of degenerative diseases (such as arthritis) which are typically found in human remains of that age. [Harv|Aldhouse-Green|2006|p=95-6]

A further forensic examination of Haraldskær Woman was undertaken by doctors at Århus Hospital in 1979. By this time, the body had desiccated, shrunken, and the skin was leathery, severely wrinkled and folded. [Harv|Hvass|1998|p=58] A CT-scan of the cranium more accurately determined her age to be about 40 years old at the time of her death. [Harv|Hvass|1998|p=62] The body height now measured only 133 cm (4 feet 4 inches) but doctors used the original 1835 descriptions to estimate that she would have stood about 150 cm (4 feet 11 inches). [Harv|Hvass|1998|p=61]

In 2000, a re-examination of Haraldskær Woman was performed by Lone Hvass of the Elsinore Museum, Miranda Aldhouse-Green of Cardiff University, and the Department of Forensic Science at the University of Århus. [Harv|Aldhouse-Green|2006|p=95-6] Forensic analysis revealed stomach contents of unhusked millet and blackberries. Her neck had a faint groove as if a rope may have been applied for torture or strangulation. The scientists concluded that the swelling of the knee joint was caused by bog acids and that the woman was probably already dead before being pinned down by branches. [Harv|Aldhouse-Green|2006|p=95-6] Because of her careful placement, and also since cremation was the prevailing mode of interment during that period in Jutland, the examiners made a determination that Haraldskær Woman was a victim of ritual sacrifice. [Harv|Aldhouse-Green|2006|p=95-6]

Relation to other bog bodies

The principal locations where bog bodies have been discovered are the Northern European countries of Germany, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, Ireland and especially Denmark. [Lang, Karen E., "Tales from the Bog", National Geographic Magazine, September (2008)] The oldest of these bodies dates to about 8000 BC, although the majority of specimens in Denmark are from the Pre-Roman Iron Age to Roman era (about 500 BC to 400 AD). [Fischer, Christian: "Tollundmanden. Gaven til guderne. Mosefund fra Danmarks forhistorie." Hovedland 2007.] As of 2006 more than 700 ancient bodies have been discovered in these sites, [Hirst, Kris K. [http://archaeology.about.com/od/bterms/g/bogbodies.htm "Bog Bodies"] , Archaeology, About.Com] although other estimates have placed the number in the thousands. It is difficult for scientists to ascertain a precise number because many of the bodies have been lost or destroyed. [Knudsen, Anne, "Moselig", Weekendavisen, Nr. 40, 5-11, Oct. 2007] Before archaeologists began actively searching for bog bodies, the bodies were discovered mostly during the routine extraction of peat, and then reburied or discarded. [Harv|Knudsen|2007] After the discovery that systematic conservation of Iron Age bodies was attributable to the acidic anaerobic environs, major excavations have occurred in Jutland. [Hamerow, Helena, 2003. "Early Medieval Settlements: The Archaeology of Rural Communities in North-West Europe 400-900", Oxford University Press, ISBN 0-19-924697-1] Other bog bodies recovered on the Jutland peninsula which have undergone as extensive an analysis as Haraldskær Woman include Tollund Man, Grauballe Man, Elling Woman, Huldremose Woman, as well as two men and a woman known collectively as the Borremose bodies. [Harv|Fischer|2007]

Literary references

The first literary reference to Haraldskær Woman was by the Danish author Steen Steensen Blicher who was an amateur archaeologist and was one of the first to visit the site. [Harv|Hvass|1998|p=23] In 1836, he published his novella "Grovhøjen" which was a parody about a mistaken archaeological find. However, by 1841 Blicher seemed to have changed his mind about Haraldskær Woman's identity when he wrote the poem "Dronning Gunhild", a lament for the dead queen in the bog. [Harv|Hvass|1998|p=30] In 1846, the Danish playwright Jens Christian Hostrup wrote his comedy, "A Sparrow Doing a Crane Dance", ("En Spurv i Tranedans"), in which the ghost of Queen Gunnhild gives a magical ring to a scheming tailor and makes everyone blind to his actions. [Hostrup, Jens Christian, "En Spurv i Tranedans", Folkecomedie i 4 akter, (1846)] In the play, Hostrup indirectly satirized the theory that the Haraldskær Woman was Queen Gunnhild, and became the first major public endorsement of Worsaae’s hypothesis.

ee also


Further reading

*Wijnand van der Sanden, "Through Nature to Eternity. The Bog Bodies of Northwest Europe.", Amsterdam: Batavian Lion International, 1996. ISBN 90-6707-4187.
*Richard Turner and Robert Scaife, "Bog Bodies: New Discoveries and New Perspectives", London: British Museum Press, 1995. ISBN 071-41-23-056.
*Don Brothwell, "The Bog Man and the Archaeology of People", Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1987. ISBN 0-674-07733-4.

External links

* [http://illuminations.berkeley.edu/archives/2002/article.php?volume=1&story=1 "Tales from the Bog"] , "illuminations" magazine, University of California, Berkeley
* [http://www.florilegium.org/files/LIFE-STEPS/bog-bodies-lnks.html "Bog-bodies-links"] A collection of links to bog body articles at Stefan's Florilegium
* [http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/bog/ "The Perfect Corpse"] Nova series for PBS television, 2008

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