Despite the importance of Tollund Man, Grauballe Man, and many other remains found throughout Europe, bog bodies were virtually ignored by scientists in the United Kingdom. That is, until two bodies from Lindow Moss made the news. Lindow Woman led to a murder confession, while Lindow Man became a media sensation.
These are the stories of the Lindow bodies, a series of remains found at Lindow Moss during the 1980s that introduced a generation to the wonders of archaeology and reminded older generations of how important these remains are to our national and special identities.
|What||Lindow bog bodies|
|Where||Lindow Moss, Cheshire, England|
|Who||Lindow Woman, Lindow Man, Lindow I-IV|
|When||Various, ~2BCE to 300CE, 1980s|
|Why||Extremely well-preserved remains that made headlines|
|How||Accidental recovery during peat processing|
Table of Contents
Around 11,000 years ago, great changes were happening across Europe. The glacial ice that had covered much of the continent was in full regress, leading to the formation of numerous lakes and waterways. In Cheshire, England, however, the melting ice formed a large bog.
Known as Lindow Moss, this bog once covered 600 hectares (~1,483 acres) of land. As with many bogs, the unique chemistry managed to remarkably preserve bodies for thousands of years.
Bog Chemistry 101
It was once commonplace to teach children about how dinosaurs would drown in tar pits and bogs, eventually becoming oil, coal, and diamonds. However, it has rarely been taught that these bogs can preserve remains. We don’t fully understand how this process works, but we do understand much of the process.
It all begins when an area is inundated and becomes covered in moss. There are nearly 400 known species of moss. The portion growing above water or soil is known as sphagnum and this portion on most species is a neutral (6.6–7.3) pH. Meanwhile, the dead, submerged layer is known as peat. These remains have an extremely acid (anything under 4.5) pH of 3.0-4.0.
Peat isn’t pure moss, but an amalgamation of dead sphagnum, other decaying plant matter, and dead insects or other organisms. As moss becomes submerged beneath new layers of sphagnum, the older peat absorbs water while simultaneously preventing oxygen from reaching the soil. Due to a lack of oxygen and nutrients, bacteria has a difficult time surviving in these lower layers. Thus, decay is extremely slow and often completely stalled.
What we don’t yet understand is how the various chemicals released during this slow decay function. Sometimes, they tan the skin of victims like leather. Other times, they remove the flesh, leaving only bone. These differences can happen within microenvironments next to each other. Tollund Man is a perfect example, where his hands are no more than bone, while his feet have been perfectly preserved (Patel & Lobell, 2010b).
The State of Lindow Moss
By the 1980s, Lindow Moss had been reduced to roughly a tenth of its original size. Sections of the peat bog approximately six metres (19.7 feet) wide and up to 200 metres (656 feet) long, known as “rooms”, were marked along a 32 hectare (79 acre) area. These rooms were alternately excavated one metre (three feet) at a time using automated equipment (Stead & Turner, 1985).
The harvested peat would be dried beside the room for six months before being shipped out for agricultural use. As peat takes thousands of years to properly mature, harvesting bogs is considered a non-renewable resource. The sudden discovery of the Lindow bodies in the 1980s may have singlehandedly averted the total destruction of Lindow Moss.
The Lindow Remains
Four sets of remains were discovered at Lindow Moss between 1983 and 1988, although only the first two are famous. They were named Lindow I-IV based on the order of discovery. The first two also have additional nicknames.
Lindow Woman, AKA Lindow I
On 13 May, 1983, Andy Mould and Stephen Dooley were manning one of the machines at Lindow Moss, watching the elevator for anything that might damage or clog the machine. A peculiar lump was removed and taken to the manager, Ken Harewood. Upon cleaning the lump, the group discovered a mangled skull. The jaw was missing, but some tissue, hair, and one eye remained intact (Craig & Sammut, 2019).
The Murder Trial
The group immediately phoned the police, and forensics identified the skull as belonging to a woman between 30 and 50 years of age. This fit the description of Malika Reyn-Bardt, who had disappeared sometime between 1960 and June 1961. Her husband, whose home rested a mere 300 yards from the Moss, was confronted with the discovery (Craig & Sammut, 2019).
Peter Reyn-Bardt confessed to murder his estranged wife, dismembering her body, and later discarding it in the bog. Carbon dating of the remains later revealed them to be 1740 ± 80BP, or from around 240 CE (Brothwell, 1986). Upon learning the remains weren’t of his wife, Reyn-Bardt withdrew his plea. However, he was placed on trial in December 1983 and pled guilty to manslaughter, claiming the death was accidental. The jury instead convicted him of murder and he eventually died in prison (Craig & Sammut, 2019).
Who Was Lindow Woman?
Unfortunately, due to poor handling by the police, Lindow Woman (as she is now known) has been reduced to a few skull fragments. What we do know was that she lived in Roman Britannia. Despite being identified as a woman aged 30-50, the later discovery of headless Lindow III has left some to believe Lindow I and Lindow III are the same person (Craig & Sammut, 2019). If so, then Lindow Woman is actually another Lindow Man.
One theory of how Lindow Woman may have died is as a victim of Celtic ritual human sacrifice. Knowledge of these rituals can largely be traced to much later poems and stories. However, the dismembered state of the Lindow bodies supports the notion of a violent death (Risden, 2006).
Lindow Man, AKA Lindow II, AKA Pete Marsh
The following year, on 1 August 1984, Andy Mould was once again manning the elevator of a peat-shredding machine when he removed what he believed to be a piece of wood. When he tossed the piece to coworker Eddie Slack, the latter failed to catch it. The object hit the ground, knocking off some peat and revealing the remains of a left foot and lower leg.
The police were notified, as the body of Malika Reyn-Bardt was still missing. Local archaeologist Rick Turner had been involved in the Lindow Woman investigation and obtained permission to excavate the vicinity of the foot’s discovery. This led to the discovery of a human body, with its lower half missing (Patel & Lobell, 2010a).
The remains had to be kept covered in peat, as exposure to air quickly began decaying the human tissue. Later testing confirmed the remains to be that of a male in his mid-20s, dated to between 2 BCE and 129 CE. Radiologists at Middlesex Hospital nicknamed the body “Pete Marsh”, a name which was quickly adopted by the press (Connolly, 1985).
The number and nature of injuries to the body, as well as the contents of Lindow Man’s stomach have led to many theories as to how he died (Turner, 1995). However, if Lindow Man wasn’t simply left to die, the method of disposal is more akin to Stone Age practices than contemporary ones (Philpott, 2006).
Lindow Man remains one of the best preserved bog bodies in the British Isles. The body is stored at the British Museum, which has occasionally loaned the body to the Manchester Museum for public exhibition.
On 6 February 1987, new human remains were found on an elevator. The initial discovery was a large piece of skin. The police were once again notified. However, based on past discoveries, the police instead deferred the find to archaeological review. The investigation revealed a total of 70 fragments, which were dubbed “Lindow III” (Turner, 1995).
The remains are of a male and estimated to be from between 30 and 225 CE. No skull fragments were found. This has led to the theory that this is actually the rest of Lindow I, whose theorized sex was never confirmed by genetic testing (Craig & Sammut, 2019; Joy, J., 2009).
On 14 June 1988, part of the buttocks and left leg of a new body were discovered on an elevator. A right thigh was also discovered in the bucket of a digger on 12 September of that year. These remains were collectively dubbed “Lindow IV” . No other remains were found in the vicinity.
Lindow IV was discovered a mere 15 metres (49.2 feet) from where Lindow II was excavated. Due to the proximity of the two bodies and the fact that the corresponding parts were present on one body but not the other, it is now widely believed that Lindow IV is actually the missing portion of Lindow Man (Gowlett, Hedges, & Law, 1989).
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