Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Body in the Bog: Elling Woman

In 1938, a local farmer discovered what he thought to be the remains of an animal in a peat bog in Bjældskovdal outside Silkeberg, Denmark. Then, he noticed a belt fastened around the remains. Instead of a drowned animal, he had found the remains of a long-deceased human. The farmer contacted the National Museum of Denmark and the body was subsequently transported to Copenhagen for further inspection.

The front of the body suffered decomposition while the back had been better preserved by the acidity and lack of oxygen in the bog. It was determined that the person wore a skin cloak and belt with a blanket of cowhide covering the lower body and legs. Because of the furrow left in the neck and the skin belt with a sliding knot which was discovered with the body, it was determined that this person was hanged to death. With the available technology of the time, researchers found it impossible to discover more, and the body was then moved to a storage room in the museum.

It was not until the 1970's that x-ray technology allowed researchers to discover the sex and age of the body. These were the remains of a young woman, approximately 25 years old. Radio Carbon dating placed her lifespan during the 4th and 2nd centuries B.C. in Northwestern Europe.

Although the discovery of bodies preserved in Northern European bogs was not unusual, nor was her mode of death or dress uncommon amongst the bodies found, one there was something remarkable about the body.


The Elling woman wore her meter long hair in a very particular style the day she was killed. The top half of her hair was braided to the nape of the neck where the rest of the hair was joined into the braid. It was then parted into seven small sections and these sections were secured two, two, and three. There is some debate about how this was done. Researchers say these two sections were braided together, but most people seem to think something was lost in translation and the pieces with two sections must have been twisted while the lock with three sections was braided. Personally, I don't know a way to "braid" two sections of hair, so I would agree that they were probably twisted together. In either case, these plaits were then joined into one long tail before being separated into two sections at the bottom and twisted. The tail was then wrapped up into a bun in the hole left between the top braid and the area where the bottom hair was braided in.

This is an extremely difficult hair style to describe, so I am inserting this diagram in the hopes of making it a little clearer.



What is particularly interesting to me is that I could find no mention of any styling product used in her hair. I would think that unless one's hair was absolutely filthy, those tiny twists at the bottom would never hold. My own hair is very curly, so I can twist it when it is wet and it will stay in when it is dry without additional product. However, there is no mention of any curl to the Elling woman's hair. If anybody can shed any light on the subject, I would be interested in hearing your thoughts.

Her elaborate hairstyle is among the factors that have led some archeologists to conclude Elling Woman may have been a victim of human sacrifice. After all, it would seem strange for a criminal to style her hair on the gallows.

Perhaps, given time and new technologies we may learn more about the Elling Woman's life and death and, in doing so, we may increase our knowledge of iron age civilization.

Additional Reading:
Body in the Bog: Tullond Man Another bog mummy found twelve years later and just 100 meters away. This body was so well preserved, we know what he ate for his final meal.

Historical Hair Care: The Vikings Learn how possible descendents of Elling Woman and Tollund man groomed and styled their hair.

Historical Hair Care: The Medieval Era Hair care was getting a little scary by this point. Fancy washing your locks in ashes or boiling a live lizard in oil?

Historical Hair Care: The Renaissance  By this point you could wash your hair with a lovely scented soap, but bottle blondes beware! Would you be prepared to douse your locks in your own urine to achieve that golden hue?

Historical Hair Care: The Victorian Era Cleanliness is next to godliness according to the Victorians, so don't forget to wash your hair frequently. Once every two weeks should suffice...



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