Scientists have been able to take a close look at the last meal eaten by a man in the Iron Age after his body was discovered in 1950.
The well-preserved remains of the man, known as the ‘Tollund Man’, were found by accident in a Danish bog, after which scientists conducted a forensic analysis in which they studied his digestive system and its contents.
It was determined Tollund Man died by hanging in around 400 BCE in what is now the Jutland peninsula of Denmark, in what is believed to be a ritual sacrifice, and an initial autopsy revealed that his final meal consisted of barley, flax, gold-of-pleasure seeds, seeds of pale persicaria, and the remnants of 16 other plant species.
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Scientists led by archaeologist Nina Nielsen, from the Silkeborg Museum in Denmark, performed a re-analysis of the contents between 2019 and 2020, with Nielsen explaining that the study was prompted by the improved knowledge of ‘plant macrofossils and the methods for analysing gut contents’.
The team hoped to identify any unusual foods linked to ritual sacrifices, conducting the study by analysing materials taken from Tollund Man’s large intestine, including macrofossils, pollen, non-pollen palynomorphs or NPPS, proteins and fat, Gizmodo reports.
Discussing the findings, which are published in Antiquity, Nielsen said: ‘We can now pretty much reconstruct the recipe of the last meal of Tollund Man. The meal was quite nutritious and consisted of a barley porridge with some seeds from pale persicaria and flax.’
PHOTO OF THE DAY. The Tollund Man, a naturally mummified corpse of a man who lived during the 4th century BC. He was found in 1950, preserved in a peat bog on the Jutland peninsula in Denmark. pic.twitter.com/A0stkjWvY7
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The research suggests he ate his final meal approximately 12 to 24 hours before death, and protein analysis indicates the meal also consisted of fish as well as porridge – foods that were both common during the Danish Early Iron Age – with the porridge believed to have been cooked in a clay pot.
The team noted that the presence of seeds from pale persicaria was unusual, given that its seeds were typically removed during threshing, with Nielsen commenting: ‘As for now, we don’t know whether the use of threshing waste in the Iron Age cuisine was normal practice or whether this ingredient was only used at special occasions like human sacrifices.’
Overall, the scientists concluded that the re-analysis was beneficial, with the quantification and identification of the ingredients in Tollund Man’s last meal now available for comparison in future projects.