The Grauballe man is the name assigned to the human mummified body found in Denmark in a swamp by a peat searcher. The discovery was utterly random but it allowed the recovery of the better preserved mummy found in a swamp. When the searcher found the body he immediately thought about a recent death, maybe from the WW2. The rest analysis dated the rests instead as coming from the 290 BC, over 2,300 years ago.

The discovery of the mummy

On the 26th of April 1952 a group of searchers of peat was working in the Nebelgaard swamp, in the central Jutland in Danimarca, when one of them ran into human rests immersed inside the peat. Tage Busk Sørensen tucked his shovel in something of a different consistency from the vegetal residual and thanks to the help of his fellows they freed the mummy.

Below: picture of the mummy at the time of its discovery

The searchers called the local doctor, who suspected he was another searcher, Red Christian, disappeared in the swamp many decades before, specifically in 1887. The doctor contacted Peter Glob from the Prehistory Museum of Aarhus to take a look at the body. Since the swamp was near the village of Grauballe, the find was called “Grauballe man”.

Below: the Grauballe man’s face in the Mosegaard Museum. Picture by di Malene shared via Wikipedia – licence CC BY-SA 3.0

The conditions of the body

Neither garments nor objects were found around the Grauballe man. His hair was red but the tone was not the natural colour at the time of death, but instead the result of the submersion into the swamp. The autopsy tests revealed that the man was in his 30’s when he died, he was 175 cm (5’9″) and his hands did not show any sign of manual wear.

The study of his teeth and jawbone shows that he had suffered from starvation or a poor health during his childhood. The skeleton exhibited lack of calcium and his backbone was showing the first phases of spondylosis, ageing disease followed by the decline of the intervertebral discs.

Below: a hand of the mummy, so well preserved to be able to see the fingerprints. Picture by Sven Rosborn shared via Wikipedia – licence Creative Commons

Besides the visual analysis of the mummy, the scientific ones revealed with precision the time of death, which was the III BC. Inside his stomach they found a porridge made out of seeds and herbs but also a residual of a poisonous fungus named ergot (Claviceps purpurea).

What killed the Grauballe man?

The ingested fungus, probably eaten randomly by the man, turned him rapidly ill. The disease made him unable to work and gave him painful symptoms such as convulsions, hallucinations and a harsh burning sensation to mouth, feet and hands.

it is possible that the other citizens of the village thought that he was possessed by an evil spirit

The Grauballe man died due to a deep cut to his throat, but he also displayed fractures to his skull and leg, perhaps provoked during the execution or from the pressure of the peat.

Below: the reconstructed face of the Grauballe man. Picture shared via Wikipedia  – licence Creative Commons

The man was certainly killed by other men with a cut on his throat which went from one ear to the other. The cause might be the punishment of a crime, but also his condition as a severely ill man, a chronic situation which showed him differently from his childhood.

Sadly there is no way to find out if he was killed for superstition or as a punishment for his actions

Today the mummy is kept in the Moesgaard Museum in Aarhus, where it is one of the main attractions. Exhibited in a room protected from light and temperature changes, its state of conservation is constantly supervised in order to not damage its conditions.

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Matteo Rubboli

I am a publisher specialised in the digital distribution of culture and founder of the portal Vanilla Magazine. I don't wear a tie or branded clothes, I keep my hair short so I don't have to comb it. That's not my fault but just the way I've been drawn as...

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