Mystery Of The Vittrup Man – Bog Body Of A Foreigner In Neolithic Denmark



Ellen Lloyd – AncientPages.com – The Vittrup Man, a bog body, was unearthed in 1915 in the Northwestern region of Denmark. The remains, which were significantly damaged, were found during a peat-cutting operation along with a wooden club, ceramic vessel, and bovine bones. This Neolithic man was estimated to be between 30 to 40 years old at the time of his death. All evidence points towards him being subjected to ritualistic sacrifice – a prevalent practice in this region during that era.

Mystery Of The Vittrup Man - Bog Body Of A Foreigner In Neolithic Denmark

To the left you can see the cranial remains of Vittrup Man, who ended up in a bog after his skull had been crushed by at least eight heavy blows. Photo: Stephen Freiheit. Image Credit: Fischer et al., 2024, PLOS ONE, CC-BY 4.0. The entire image compilation was made by AncientPages.com 

According to Anders Fischer of the University of Gothenburg, Sweden, and his team who studied the bog boy, “the impact lesions on the skull are characterized by oval fractures with larger radiating fracture lines. Such damages are described in the forensic anthropological literature on skeletal traces of fatal violence—e.g., – and are known from other Neolithic human skeletons.

They suggest blunt force caused by contact with an object made of more resilient material than the skull bone, possibly with a rounded surface and a diameter of a minimum of 2 cm. The wooden club found next to the skeletal remains would have been a weapon likely to produce these fractures.” 1

Further analysis of his skeletal remains suggested that he lived around 3,300-3,100 BC and was not a local man. Who was this foreigner? Where did he come from, and why had he reached Denmark? These were some of the many questions scientists decided to investigate.

Mystery Of The Vittrup Man - Bog Body Of A Foreigner In Neolithic Denmark

End of life for Vittrup Man. Credit: Anders Fischer (contents) and Niels Bach (drawing), CC-BY 4.0

The isotopes of strontium, carbon, and oxygen found in the tooth enamel of Vittrup Man suggest that his early years were spent on the Scandinavian Peninsula’s coast. Genetic analysis further supports this by showing a close link between Vittrup Man and Mesolithic inhabitants from Norway and Sweden. Further analysis of isotopes and proteins in his teeth and bones indicate a dietary shift from coastal food sources such as marine mammals and fish during his early life to farm food, including sheep or goat, during his later years. This transition appears to have occurred during his late teenage years.

The research suggests that Vittrup Man probably spent his early life in a northern hunting and gathering community before relocating to an agricultural society in Denmark. The motives for this move are not entirely clear. Still, researchers suggest that he might have been a trader or captive subsequently integrated into the local population. Despite some unresolved queries surrounding Vittrup Man, this detailed examination of his geographical and dietary past provides new insights into the relationships between European Mesolithic and Neolithic societies.

Everything now breathes peace at the site in the river valley, where the dramatically maltreated
remains of Vittrup Man were deposited in Neolithic times. The peat cut from 1915 has long since been filled in and overgrown. Credit: Anders Fischer

Bog bodies discovered in Scandinavia have been found to originate from significantly distant regions. For instance, research into the bog body Haraldskærkvinnan, found in Denmark, indicates that she had undertaken a long journey just before her demise. Similarly, the Egtved girl’s bog body revealed that she was not native to Denmark but originated from an area hundreds of kilometers away from the Egtved region.

The Vittrup Man is a unique genetic foreigner among Neolithic Denmark’s population. His lineage aligns closely with Mesolithic individuals from the Scandinavian Peninsula, and there is no substantial evidence of genetic intermingling with Neolithic farmers. Furthermore, he remains the sole individual from Denmark’s Funnel Beaker period whose non-local strontium signature has been documented in published research.

“His dietary isotope values indicate that during his teenage years, he switched from a fisher-hunter-gatherer diet to that of a farmer, and during the last many years of life his diet was similar to that of the majority of contemporary individuals found in Denmark. Thus, during his years of maximal physical labor capacity, Vittrup Man lived in a farming society, probably hundreds and possibly more than a thousand kilometers from his childhood home. Many explanations for such a drastic change in life-style and geography are possible, as exemplified in ethnographic and early historic sources.

The refitted fragments of a lugged vase, which was probably deposited in the bog some centuries before the human remains. The rim part is missing. Maximum width 19 cm. Credit: John Lee, Danish National Museum.

He may have been an immigrant or trader who became integrated into equal social standing as other local Funnel Beaker society members. He could also have been a captive/slave providing labor and possibly maritime skills. However, neither his way of death nor his lifestyle allows definite conclusions as to his social standing,” the scientists write in their study.

Europe’s bog bodies have long fascinated scientists. However, despite rigorous research efforts, it is only now that researchers have comprehensively understood this intriguing bog body phenomenon.

Examinations of bog bodies such as the Vittrup Man, the Haraldskærkvinnan, the Elling Woman, the Egtved girl, and many others provide valuable information about the ancient past.

Written by Ellen Lloyd – AncientPages.com

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  1. Vittrup Man–The life-history of a genetic foreigner in Neolithic Denmark, PLoS ONE (2024). DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0297032

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