Simple food is made easier by careful choice of ingredients and preparation, so that as little as possible needs to be done at the last minute: exactly as Christmas should be. It’s a good opportunity to stock up on carefully sourced vinegar, chutney and cheese — indulgences that might be overlooked at another time of year.
Cotechino, a rich pork sausage found in Italian delis, is the perfect antidote to a potentially dry turkey. Brining the bird, either dry or wet, needs no specialist equipment and keeps meat tender and flavourful (but isn’t essential if you’re short of time).
For roast potatoes, try getting hold of golden wonder or yukon gold. A few russet apples or a handful of fresh rosemary will make a welcome addition before they go into the oven. A glug of port gives depth to spiced red cabbage, though I always seem to manage to find the only whole clove left in the bowl — a pungent version of the traditional sixpence.
Get ahead: December 24
1 Dry-brine your turkey and make the turkey-stock base from the giblets.
2 Prepare and cook the red cabbage.
3 Prepare and cook the lentil stuffing (without the apples and fresh herbs).
4 Peel and parboil the potatoes and place evenly over a cake rack in the fridge overnight.
5 Cook and prepare the cotechino.
Let’s go! December 25
10.30am Clean and halve any larger sprouts. Clean the carrots, leaving 1cm green tops.
11.20am Heat the oven to 150C (170C non-fan). Take the turkey, cabbage, potatoes and stuffing out of the fridge.
11.50am Stuff and baste the turkey, then place in the oven.
1.45pm Caramelise the apples and chop the dill and parsley.
2pm Turn the oven up to 200C (220C non-fan). Heat the oil on trays in the oven.
2.10pm Place the potatoes in the oil and roast for 15 minutes. Turn and cook for a further 15 minutes.
2.30pm Remove the turkey and wrap it loosely with foil.
2.35pm Blanch the carrots for 5 minutes and cut larger ones in half. Reduce the oven to 190C (210C non-fan) and cook for 15 minutes.
2.40pm Remove the potatoes and place them in a warm oven.
2.45pm Put the sprouts in the oven at 220C (240C non-fan) for 10-15 minutes. Make the tray gravy and finish with the premade stock.
2.50pm Add the butter, treacle and walnuts to the carrots and cook for further 5 minutes. Heat the red cabbage and lentil stuffing on the hob. Stir the apples and fresh herbs through the stuffing. Once hot, cover and set aside.
3pm Add the butter, lemon zest and juice to the sprouts. Bring everything to the table and carve the turkey.
The best roast turkey
Norfolk bronze or black are some of the best-flavoured birds and are worth seeking out as a festive centrepiece. It’s very important the turkey is at room temperature before you start cooking it; a meat probe will give you peace of mind. As a general guide, allow 40 minutes’ cooking time per kg. If you can’t find cotechino, use any fresh Italian seasoned sausage with a high fat content.
Serves 6 people
20g baking powder
60g fine sea salt
1 x 4kg turkey, at room temperature
1kg cotechino (in bags)
3 white onions, peeled and halved
1 bulb of garlic, halved horizontally
01 Mix the baking powder and salt and rub the mixture all over the turkey skin. Leave in the fridge, uncovered, overnight or for up to 24 hours.
02 Heat the oven to 150C (170C non-fan). Lower the cotechino in its bags into a large pan and cover with cold water. Set over a medium heat and bring to the boil, simmering for 30 minutes. Remove the cotechino and set aside to cool in a bowl.
03 Open the bags and slit down the length of each sausage, removing and discarding the skins. Mash the sausage meat and, if preparing in advance, leave in the fridge overnight.
04 Remove the turkey from the fridge and, starting at the neck, loosen the skin with your hand. Spread the fat (it will have separated) of the cotechino beneath and over the skin, covering it well. Stuff the cotechino meat into the neck cavity, then the body cavity, leaving room for some air to circulate.
05 Place the onions and garlic into a roasting tin and sit a rack over them. Place the turkey on the rack, then into the oven for 2 hours.
06 Turn the oven up to 200C (220C non-fan) and roast for a further 30-40 minutes. The meat probe should read 75C. The juices should run clear when the thickest part of the thigh is pierced.
07 Take the turkey out of the oven, cover with foil and leave to rest for 30 minutes before carving.
‘So can we go upstairs?” An overworked guide gives me a weary look. “Nobody goes upstairs, nobody but family.” My grown-up daughter and I are on the porch of Graceland in Memphis, Tennessee, at the end of a road trip through the Deep South that has brought us to the second most visited house in America.
I know from the books that above us is the “death bathroom” where a heart attack felled Elvis Presley, supposedly as he read A Scientific Search for the Face of Jesus on the loo. With no chance of inappropriate selfies, we settled into our basic $43.75 tour.
The first striking fact is that, unlike everything else in America, Graceland is smaller than you expect: a solid suburban home gussied up by a portico with four Corinthian columns. The second surprise is that for all the green shag carpeting on ceilings, the white settees, the faux fur upholstery and the indoor waterfall, the interior is really rather intimate and homely. You can see why Elvis loved the place.
Long before reaching Presley’s doorstep, music and food had become the twin Corinthian pillars of our trip from Louisiana up Highway 61, the old “blues highway” through Mississippi. The adventure had begun, as many do, in New Orleans, specifically on that garish slash of neon, Bourbon Street, which cuts through the picturesque and otherwise charming French Quarter. Just off the plane, we went to the Desire Oyster Bar for our Welcome to Louisiana meal. Its no-nonsense menu was not for the weak-stomached: firecracker oysters, fried alligator (like chicken but saltier) and gumbo (southern stew). When a towering plate of shrimp and grits (similar to polenta) and a case of over-ambitious ordering defeated me, Kentrell, the oyster man, told me about the diner who downed nine orders of a dozen oysters. Yes, but that probably wasn’t at 3am UK time.
The next day we ventured farther into the French Quarter. In the balmy sun, surrounded by colourful, flower-bedecked antique buildings, you would have to try hard not to have a good time. Music was, of course, everywhere — a funky brass band, country blues buskers. Yes, this is tourist land but the standard was high, save for a lone trumpeter in Woldenberg Park by the Mississippi who seemed to slip into Baa, Baa, Black Sheep every time inspiration flagged. Even the living statues were a cut above, though the one we admired most, an eccentric figure in Canal Street, turned out, in fact, to be just a statue.
The restaurants too have their surprises. At ancient Napoleon House they showed us the upstairs chambers supposedly prepared for Bonaparte’s exile (never used after he died in St Helena). Above Arnaud’s Jazz Bistro there is a museum showing the costumes worn by the founder’s daughter at Mardi Gras balls. We inspected rows of ghostly mannequins clad as a mix of Disney princesses and Marie Antoinette.
By now, however, the road was calling — Highway 61, the legendary road as revisited by Bob Dylan. At first, however, the journey was dull unless you are a fan of swamp and low-budget ribbon development. However, excitement grew as it began to rain — and rain. By the time we reached picturesque Natchez, tornado warnings were gusting all over cable TV. Our hotel, the Grand, sat on a bluff high over the Mississippi, which was not, as in the Paul Simon song, “shining like a National guitar”. Instead Ol’ Man River brooded grey and ominous.
Natchez is known for the glories of its plantation houses — not so glorious if you were one of the four million slaves in the South labouring amid the cotton and sugar cane. The most spectacular residence we saw was Longwood, a six-storey mansion designed in Moorish style that comes with a poignant backstory. Only the basement was fitted out internally when the Civil War broke out and the northern builders fled. Its owner then died and his wife, reduced to penury, lived on with the children in the basement — as did their descendants for 100 years — never having the money to complete the interiors. The grand and ghostly upper floors are now a favourite for vampire movie-makers.
On we drove, the road taking us past more swamp and shacks and what looked in places like picturesque poverty, but real poverty nonetheless. We stopped at little Greenwood where the Alluvian was a fine boutique hotel, much-loved by weekending Americans. However, the rest of this little cotton city was a puzzle. For all its period buildings, the centre has been “hollowed out” by suburban growth. Trying to walk to a shop where you could buy, say, a banana or even (mad idea) a newspaper proved impossible. Instead we took the car to the Museum of the Mississippi Delta where they had the skeleton of a local mastodon, a re-creation of a swamp, and made a game attempt at explaining the convulsions of the Civil War and the bitter civil rights struggle in these parts.
Next came blues day. We drove out of town to the rustic little Zion Missionary Church to pay our respects at what may be the grave of the commercially insignificant but hugely influential bluesman Robert Johnson. There are two other alleged burial sites to choose from. Our route then took us past the crossroads where Johnson is said to have met the Devil to sell his soul in return for supernatural musical powers. Today Beelzebub would be crushed by the 18-wheelers trundling past before he could make the deal.
Halfway to Memphis we stopped at Clarksdale, touted as the birthplace of blues music. At the Delta Museum they were handing out fairy cakes to mark the birthday of Muddy Waters. The Ground Zero club is one part tourist trap, one part blues cliché and one part a very good time. We sipped root beer and listened to some righteous guitaring.
In Memphis we arrived at the new Napoleon Hotel, which pulls off the trick of being homely and hip. We told the valet we wanted to visit Sun Studio, cradle of early rock’n’roll. He pointed down the street. But it was one of those American urban forays via crumbling or non-existent sidewalks and past wandering lost souls that proved impossible for us. So we retreated and caught a bus. Sun Studio is small and airless, bedecked with pictures of Elvis, Carl Perkins, Johnny Cash and sundry lost legends. At one end is a drum kit left behind when U2 rattled and hummed here in 1987; at the other end our guide, Nina, unveiled an ancient Shure 55 mike that Elvis may or may not have sung into. “Do not kiss it or lick it,” she implored, as the holy relic was passed round.
Downtown Memphis was smart and shiny, the rest was not. We ate a decent plate of gumbo in Beale Street, the music quarter, which is heavily touristy. But the National Civil Rights Museum, built around the Lorraine Motel where Martin Luther King was shot in 1968, is hugely moving. King’s bedroom is preserved as on the day of his death. The Stax Museum of American Soul Music, celebrating the mighty local label, was also $13 well spent.
After our Graceland foray, it was a six-hour straight drive down the Interstate 55 for another brief taste of New Orleans. At a final brunch at Commander’s Palace, I drank a potent local Sazerac cocktail, then another, and not surprisingly fell asleep on the plane home. I had a dream that I was back in Graceland and the reincarnated Elvis himself was showing me round upstairs. Yet as we reached his inner sanctum he morphed into an air stewardess who was telling me to buckle up for landing. Some things in the Deep South will for ever remain a deep mystery.
If you’re looking for the middle of nowhere, the Bjaeldskovdal bog is a good place to start. It lies six miles outside the small town of Silkeborg in the middle of Denmark’s flat, sparse Jutland peninsula. The bog itself is little more than a spongy carpet of moss, with a few sad trees poking out. An ethereal stillness hangs over it. A child would put it more simply: This place is really spooky.
The first time I saw him in his glass case at the Silkeborg Museum, a kind of embarrassed hush came over me, as if I had intruded on a sacred mystery. Apparently, this happens frequently. “Most people get very silent,” says Nielsen. “Some people faint, but that’s rare.”
What really gets you is his lovely face with its closed eyes and lightly stubbled chin. It is disconcertingly peaceful for someone who died so violently. You’d swear he’s smiling, as if he’s been dreaming sweetly for all those centuries. “It’s like he could wake up at any moment and say, ‘Oh, where was I?’” says Nielsen, who has clearly fallen under Tollund Man’s spell himself. “Looking at his face, you feel you could take a trip back 2,300 years to meet him. I would like to put a USB plug into his well-preserved brain and download everything that’s on it, but that’s impossible. He’s reluctant to answer.”
Reluctant perhaps, but not altogether unwilling. Archaeologists have been asking the same questions since the Hojgaards first troubled Tollund Man’s long sleep: Who are you? Where did you come from? How did you live? Who murdered you and why? But the way the researchers ask the questions, using new forensic techniques like dual-energy CT scanners and strontium tests, is getting more sophisticated all the time. There’s new hope that, sometime soon, he may start to speak.
Scholars tend to agree that Tollund Man’s killing was some kind of ritual sacrifice to the gods—perhaps a fertility offering. To the people who put him there, a bog was a special place. While most of Northern Europe lay under a thick canopy of forest, bogs did not. Half earth, half water and open to the heavens, they were borderlands to the beyond. To these people, will-o’-the-wisps—flickering ghostly lights that recede when approached—weren’t the effects of swamp gas caused by rotting vegetation. They were fairies. The thinking goes that Tollund Man’s tomb may have been meant to ensure a kind of soggy immortality for the sacrificial object.
“When he was found in 1950,” says Nielsen, “they made an X-ray of his body and his head, so you can see the brain is quite well-preserved. They autopsied him like you would do an ordinary body, took out his intestines, said, yup it’s all there, and put it back. Today we go about things entirely differently. The questions go on and on.”
Lately, Tollund Man has been enjoying a particularly hectic afterlife. In 2015, he was sent to the Natural History Museum in Paris to run his feet through a microCT scan normally used for fossils. Specialists in ancient DNA have tapped Tollund Man’s femur to try to get a sample of the genetic material. They failed, but they’re not giving up. Next time they’ll use the petrous bone at the base of the skull, which is far denser than the femur and thus a more promising source of DNA.
Then there’s Tollund Man’s hair, which may end up being the most garrulous part of him. Shortly before I arrived, Tollund Man’s hat was removed for the first time to obtain hair samples. By analyzing how minute quantities of strontium differ along a single strand, a researcher in Copenhagen hopes to assemble a road map of all the places Tollund Man traveled in his lifetime. “It’s so amazing, you can hardly believe it’s true,” says Nielsen.
Tollund Man is the best-looking and best-known member of an elite club of preserved cadavers that have come to be known as “bog bodies.” These are men and women (also some adolescents and a few children) who were laid down long ago in the raised peat bogs of Northern Europe—mostly Denmark, Germany, England, Ireland and the Netherlands. Cashel Man, the community’s elder statesman, dates to the Bronze Age, around 2,000 B.C., giving him a good 700 years on King Tut. But his age makes him an outlier. Radiocarbon dating tells us that the greater number of bog bodies went into the moss some time in the Iron Age between roughly 500 B.C. and A.D. 100. The roster from that period is a bog body Who’s Who: Tollund Man, Haraldskjaer Woman, Grauballe Man, Windeby Girl, Lindow Man, Clonycavan Man and Oldcroghan Man.
They can keep speaking to us from beyond the grave because of the environment’s singular chemistry. The best-preserved bodies were all found in raised bogs, which form in basins where poor drainage leaves the ground waterlogged and slows plant decay. Over thousands of years, layers of sphagnum moss accumulate, eventually forming a dome fed entirely by rainwater. A raised bog contains few minerals and very little oxygen, but lots of acid. Add in low Northern European temperatures, and you have a wonderful refrigerator for conserving dead humans.
A body placed here decomposes extremely slowly. Soon after burial, the acid starts tanning the body’s skin, hair and nails. As the sphagnum moss dies, it releases a carbohydrate polymer called sphagnan. It binds nitrogen, halting growth of bacteria and further mummifying the corpse. But sphagnan also extracts calcium, leached out of the body’s bones. This helps to explain why, after a thousand or so years of this treatment, a corpse ends up looking like a squished rubber doll.
Nobody can say for sure whether the people who buried the bodies in the bog knew that the sphagnum moss would keep those bodies intact. It appears highly unlikely—how would they? Still, it is tempting to think so, since it fits so perfectly the ritualistic function of bog bodies, perhaps regarded as emissaries to the afterworld.
Besides, there’s also the odd business of bog butter. Bodies weren’t the only things that ended up in the bogs of Northern Europe. Along with wooden and bronze vessels, weapons and other objects consecrated to the gods, there was also an edible waxy substance made out of dairy or meat. Just this past summer, a turf-cutter found a 22-pound hunk of bog butter in County Meath, Ireland. It is thought to be 2,000 years old, and while it smells pretty funky, this Iron Age comestible would apparently work just fine spread on 21st-century toast. Like the vessels and weapons, bog butter may have been destined for the gods, but scholars are just as likely to believe that the people who put it there were simply preserving it for later. And if they knew a bog would do this for butter, why not the human body too?
Much of what we know about bog bodies amounts to little more than guesswork and informed conjecture. The Bronze and Iron Age communities from which they come had no written language. There’s one thing we do know about them, because it is written on their flesh. Nearly all appear to have been killed, many with such savagery that it lends an air of grim purposefulness to their deaths. They’ve been strangled, hanged, stabbed, sliced and clobbered on the head. Some victims may have been murdered more than once in several different ways. Scholars have come to call this overkilling, and it understandably provokes no end of speculation. “Why would you stab someone in the throat and then strangle them?” wonders Vincent van Vilsteren, curator of archaeology at Drents Museum in Assen, the Netherlands, home of the bog body known as Yde Girl.
We may never get a clear answer, and it now seems unlikely that a single explanation can ever fit all the victims. But the question keeps gnawing at us and gives bog bodies their clammy grip on the imagination. For some strange reason, we identify. They are so alarmingly normal, these bog folk. You think, there but for the grace of the goddess went I.
That’s what overcomes the visitors in Tollund Man’s presence. Seamus Heaney felt it, and wrote a haunting and melancholy series of poems inspired by the bog bodies. “Something of his sad freedom as he rode the tumbril should come to me, driving, saying the names Tollund, Grauballe, Nebelgard,” Heaney writes in his poem “Tollund Man.”
It’s hard to say exactly how many bog bodies there are (it depends on whether you count just the fleshy bog bodies or include bog skeletons), but the number is probably in the hundreds. The first records of them date to the 17th century, and they’ve been turning up fairly regularly since then. (Before that, bodies found in bogs were often given a quick reburial in the local churchyard.)
We’re finding them less frequently now that peat has greatly diminished as a source of fuel. To the extent that peat still gets cut at all—environmentalists oppose peat extraction in these fragile ecosystems—the job now falls to large machines that often grind up what might have emerged whole from the slow working of a hand spade.
That doesn’t mean the odd bog body doesn’t still turn up. Cashel Man was unearthed in 2011 by a milling machine in Cul na Mona bog in Cashel, Ireland. In 2014, the Rossan bog in Ireland’s County Meath yielded a leg and arm bones and another leg last year. “We know something hugely significant is going on here. We’ve found wooden vessels here. We’ve found bog butter. This bog is a very sacred place,” says Maeve Sikora, an assistant keeper at the National Museum of Ireland in Dublin, who is investigating the Rossan finds.
The search for the origins of bog bodies and their secrets goes back a fairly long way, too. In 1780, a peat-cutter found a skeleton and a plait of hair in a bog on Drumkeragh Mountain. The property belonged to the Earl of Moira, and it was his wife, Elizabeth Rawdon, Countess of Moira, who pursued what we believe to be the first serious investigation of such a find, publishing her results in the journal Archaeologia.
As more bog bodies turned up, more questions got asked. In the absence of clear answers, mythmaking and fancy rushed in to fill the void. On October 20, 1835, workmen digging a ditch in the Haraldskjaer Fen on Denmark’s Jutland peninsula came across the well-preserved body of a woman, about 5-foot-2 with high cheekbones and long, dark hair. She was clamped to the moss with small staves through her elbows and knees.
Danish historian and linguist Niels Matthias Petersen identified her as Queen Gunhild of Norway, who, legend tells us, died around 970, and was notoriously cruel, clever, wanton and domineering.
https://www.thinglink.com/card/909148133626216450 (Map Credit: Guilbert Gates)According to the old stories, the Viking king Harald Bluetooth of Denmark enticed Gunhild over from Norway to be his bride. When she arrived, however, he drowned her and laid her deep in Gunnelsmose (Gunhild’s Bog). This explanation was not only accepted when Petersen first advanced it in 1835, it was celebrated; Queen Gunhild became a reality star. Around 1836, Denmark’s King Frederick VI personally presented her with an oak coffin, and she was displayed as a kind of Viking trophy in the Church of St. Nicholas in Vejle.
Among the few dissident voices was that of a scrappy student, J.J.A. Worsaae, one of the principal founders of prehistoric archaeology. Worsaae believed the folklore-based identification was hooey. He argued persuasively that the woman found in Haraldskjaer Fen should be grouped with other Iron Age bog bodies. In 1977, carbon dating proved him right: Haraldskjaer Woman—no longer referred to as Queen Gunhild—had lived during the fifth century B.C. Moreover, a second postmortem in the year 2000 found a thin line around her neck that had gone undetected. She had not been drowned but strangled. This changed everything, except perhaps for the victim.
In the absence of hard evidence, the temptation to weave bog bodies into a national narrative proved hard to resist. The most notorious effort to lay claim to the bog bodies came in the mid-1930s, when the Nazis repurposed them to buttress their own Aryan mythology. By this time, two views prevailed. It was largely accepted that the majority of bog bodies dated to the Bronze and Iron Ages, but their murder was ascribed either to ritual sacrifice or criminal punishment. This latter interpretation rested heavily on the writings of the Roman historian Publius Cornelius Tacitus, whose Germania, written in A.D. 98, portrays social customs in the northern parts of the empire.
On the whole, Tacitus thought highly of the local inhabitants. He praised their forthrightness, bravery, simplicity, devotion to their chieftains and restrained sexual habits, which frowned on debauchery and favored monogamy and fidelity. These were the noble savages the Nazis wanted to appropriate as direct forebears, and Heinrich Himmler, head of the Gestapo and the SS, established an archaeological institute, the Ahnenerbe, to justify that claim “scientifically.”
To the researchers at the Ahnenerbe, bog bodies were the remains of degenerates who had betrayed the ancient code. In a key passage, Tacitus writes: “The punishment varies to suit the crime. Traitors and deserters are hanged on trees; the cowardly, the unwarlike and those who disgrace their bodies are drowned in miry swamps under a cover of wicker.” Professor and SS-Untersturmfuhrer Karl August Eckhardt interpreted this last phrase to mean homosexuals. It was just a hop from here to the Nazis’ ferocious persecution of gay people.
“The Ahnenerbe’s was the dominant theory of bog bodies at the time, and it was dangerous to question it,” says Morten Ravn, a Danish curator who has published a historical overview of bog body research. One of the few who dared was a historian of culture named Alfred Dieck, who perhaps felt himself protected by his own Nazi Party membership. Dieck’s research demonstrated that bog bodies came from too wide an area over too long a span of time to represent proto-Germanic legal practice. But the man who torpedoed the Aryan theory of bog bodies was prevented from working as an archaeologist after the war because of his Nazi past. Ravn says, “He was really quite an unfortunate person.”
Shortly after Tollund Man was discovered, the detective in charge of what was initially a missing persons investigation had the good sense to call in Peter Vilhelm Glob, who had recently been appointed professor of archaeology at the university in Aarhus, the nearest big city. P. V. Glob, as everyone refers to him, has stamped his name more deeply than anyone else on the riddle of the bog bodies. His book, The Bog People—to the bighearted Glob, they were people, not bodies—was hailed as a modest masterpiece when it appeared in 1965. It is sharp, authoritative and moving all at once, and it remains intensely readable. Glob, who died in 1985, succeeded not only in providing the scaffolding for our understanding of Tollund Man and his kin, but in restoring their humanity as well. He conjured bog bodies back to life and made the world take notice of them. It was Glob who introduced Seamus Heaney to Tollund Man.
In Glob’s view, Tollund Man and most of the others were sacrificed to Nerthus, the Earth Mother, to ensure a good crop. We can see the goddess paraded around, surrounded by fabulous animals, on the great silver Gundestrup cauldron, buried as a sacrifice in a Danish bog not far from where several Iron Age bodies were also found. Glob notes pointedly that the cauldron’s goddesses all wear neck rings and twisted bands on their foreheads—“like the ropes round the necks of sacrificed bog men.”
They were strung up at winter’s end or early spring. We know Tollund Man was hanged, from the mark of the leather high up on his throat; “if he was strangled, it would have been lower down,” Ole Nielsen explains. And we know roughly the time of year when this occurred from the seasonal contents found in his stomach and that of other victims: barley, linseed and knotweed, among others, but no strawberries, blackberries, apples or hips from summer and autumn.
The ominous conclusion is clear, Glob informs us: The winter gruel was a special last supper intended to hasten the coming of spring, “on just such occasions that bloody human sacrifices reached a peak in the Iron Age.”
Glob is fine—much better than fine—as far as he goes, but he doesn’t go nearly far enough, as he would no doubt agree. “I’m still trying to get nearer to Tollund Man,” says Ole Nielsen. “In my view, he could have been a willing victim, perhaps chosen from childhood—I see nothing degrading about that. Or maybe they drew straws—‘Oh damn! Well, better you than me!’
“If we had his DNA, maybe we could say where he came from—his clan, from the north, from Greece, wherever. Could he drink milk? Was he prone to diabetes? What about arteriosclerosis? That’s one of the reasons we sent him for a microCT scan in Paris, to look into his arteries.”
Maybe we shouldn’t even be using the term bog bodies at all anymore, insofar as it tends to impose a unified explanation on a diverse phenomenon. The first museum exhibition Julia Farley recalls seeing as a child is the Lindow Man in the British Museum. Lindow Man is the most intact of several bodies discovered in the Lindow Moss in Cheshire, England, during the 1980s.
“I still come and say hello to him whenever I’m in the gallery,” says Farley, a curator at the British Museum. Except, says Farley, he may not be quite the same Lindow Man she first encountered all those years ago.
Carbon dating puts his death somewhere between 2 B.C. and A.D. 119. We have only the upper half of him, but besides that he’s in fine shape. He once stood around 5-foot-6. His beard and mustache had been clipped by shears. His manicured fingernails suggest he didn’t work too hard. His brow is furrowed in consternation. He was just 25 or so when he died, and he died a particularly horrible death. “One of the doctors who examined him originally found he had been kneed in the back to bring him to his knees, garroted, had his throat slit, his neck broken, got bashed in the head and was left to drown in the bog,” says Farley. “This is the so-called ‘triple death,’ and it’s the model that’s been taken forward.”
Farley isn’t so sure, and she’s not the only one. First, the physical evidence is inconclusive. Farley thinks the sinew tied around Lindow Man’s neck could as easily be a necklace as a garrote. Moreover, some of Lindow Man’s “wounds” might have occurred after death from the crushing weight of peat moss over centuries. Different fracturing patterns distinguish bones that fracture before death, when they are more flexible, from bones that fracture after death. It matters greatly, too, whether Lindow Man lived before or after the Roman conquest of Britain around A.D. 60. Among other sweeping cultural changes that came in with the Romans, human sacrifice was outlawed. What’s more, post-Glob, the Tacitus consensus has broken down. It turns out, Tacitus never visited the regions he wrote about, but compiled his history from other contemporary accounts. “There’s a lot of problematic issues with Tacitus,” says Morten Ravn. “He is still a research source, but you’ve got to be careful.”
All things considered, Lindow Man has gotten roped into a tidy, satisfyingly creepy meta-narrative of ritual killing. “For me, we’ve got to disentangle Lindow Man from that story,” says Farley. “There’s clearly something a bit weird happening in Cheshire in the early Roman period. But we can’t say whether these people are being executed, whether they’ve been murdered, whether they’ve been brought there and disposed of, or ritually killed for religious reasons. However it turns out, they’re not part of the same picture as the Danish bog bodies. We need to approach Lindow Man and the other bodies from Lindow Moss as individuals—as people.”
Last October, Lindow Man was taken for a short walk to London’s Royal Brompton Hospital, which has a dual-energy CT scanner. The scanner uses two rotating X-ray machines, each set to different wavelengths.
“It gives you amazing clarity for both the thicker parts, such as bones, and the more delicate parts, such as skin,” says Daniel Antoine, the British Museum’s curator of physical anthropology. “We’re using a dual-energy scanner in conjunction with VGStudio Max, one of the best software packages to transform those X-ray slices into a visualization. It’s the same software used in Formula One to scan brake pads after a race to reconstruct what’s happened on the inside without having to dismantle it. The software in most hospitals isn’t half as powerful as this. We’re really trying to push the science as much as possible.”
In September 2012, the museum ran a dual-energy scan on Gebelein Man, an Egyptian mummy from 3,500 B.C. that has been in its collection for more than 100 years. The scan probed hitherto unseen wounds in the back, shoulder blade and rib cage. The damage was consistent with the deep thrust of a blade in the back. Gebelein Man, it appeared, had been murdered. A 5,500-year-old crime had been revealed. Says Antoine, “Because the methods are constantly evolving, we can keep re-analyzing the same ancient human remains and come up with entirely new insights.”
In Ireland, Eamonn Kelly, formerly keeper of Irish Antiquities at the National Museum, claims a distinct narrative for his preserved Irish countrymen. In 2003, peat cutters found Oldcroghan Man and Clonycavan Man in two different bogs. Both had lived between 400 and 175 B.C., and both had been subjected to a spectacular variety of depredations, including having their nipples mutilated. This and other evidence led Kelly to propose the theory that the Celtic bog bodies were kings who had failed in their duties. The role of the king was to ensure milk and cereals for the people. (He fills this sacral role by a kingship-marriage with the goddess, who represents fertility and the land itself.) Kelly’s theory was a significant break from bog body orthodoxy. As he explains it, St. Patrick tells us that sucking the king’s nipples was a rite of fealty. So lacerated nipples, no crown, either here or in the hereafter.
“In Ireland, the king is the pivotal member of society, so when things go wrong, he pays the price,” says Kelly. “All the new bodies discovered since then have reaffirmed this theory. The ritual sacrifice may be the same principle as in the Teutonic lands, but here you’ve got a different person carrying the can. To have one explanation that fits bog bodies across Europe just isn’t going to work.”
Even the Danish bog bodies who furnish the master narrative are being re-examined to determine how well P. V. Glob’s old story still fits. Peter de Barros Damgaard and Morton Allentoft, two researchers from Copenhagen’s Centre for GeoGenetics, recently examined one of Haraldskjaer Woman’s teeth and a piece of the skull’s petrous bone. They were trying to get a decent sample of her DNA to determine her gene pool. To get a workable sample would be a godsend for bog body research, since it could clarify whether she was an outsider or a local. To date, it has been almost impossible to get because the acid in bogs causes DNA to disintegrate. But if there’s any hope of obtaining some, the sample would likely come from the teeth or petrous bone, since their extreme density protects DNA well.
Thus far, the results have proved disappointing. Damgaard did manage to extract a bit of DNA from Haraldskjaer Woman’s tooth, but the sample proved too small. “I have no way to certify that the 0.2 percent of human DNA in the sample isn’t contaminated,” Damgaard wrote to me, after almost a full year’s work. “You could say that the genomic puzzle has been broken into pieces so small that they carry no information.” He sounded a little melancholy about it but resigned. “The DNA of the Haraldskjaer Woman will be beyond our reach forever, so she can lie down and rest.”
Karin Margarita Frei, professor of archaeometry/archaeological science at the National Museum of Denmark, had somewhat better luck performing a different kind of analysis on Haraldskjaer Woman’s hair. Frei uses strontium isotope analyses in her research. Strontium is present nearly everywhere in nature, but in proportions that vary from one place to another. People and animals absorb this strontium through eating and drinking in the proportions characteristic of the place they’re in at the time—specifically, the ratio of the isotopes strontium 87 to strontium 86. We have pretty good maps for the strontium characteristics of different countries, so by matching a particular body’s strontium makeup to the map, we can tell where its owner has been—and not just at one moment, but over time.
As with DNA, the best places to mine strontium are a person’s teeth and bones. The strontium isotope ratio in the first molar enamel shows where you come from originally, the long bone of the leg will show where you spent the last ten years of your life, and a rib will localize you for the last three or four years. The problem is that bog bodies often have no bones and their teeth are terribly degraded.
Frei had a revelation. Why not gather strontium from human hair? “When I saw Haraldskjaer Woman’s hair in 2012, almost 50 centimeters long, I realized I had the perfect material to investigate rapid mobility, since it works as a kind of fast-growing archive. It was an incredible moment for me,” Frei told me. Strontium, she says, enables her to “trace travels in the last years of a person’s life.”
Hair contains at most a few parts per million of strontium, often much less. And after burial in a bog for a few thousand years, hair is often fatally contaminated with dust and microparticles.
It took Frei three years to develop a technique for cleaning hair and extracting usable strontium samples from it, but when she did, the results were startling. “The small amount of enamel we got from Haraldskjaer Woman’s teeth said she was raised locally, but the tip of her hair told us that in the months before her death she went quite far. The low strontium signature indicates a volcanic area—maybe the middle of Germany, or the UK.”
Frei did a similar analysis on Huldremose Woman, a 2nd-century B.C. bog body found in 1879 in a peat bog near Huldremose, Denmark. Similar results.
“Both women were traveling just before they died,” says Frei. “It made me think that if they were sacrificed, maybe they made the trip as part of the sacrifice. We may have to rethink the whole sacrifice question because of strontium.”
How fruitful a way forward are these high-tech invasions of the flesh? Eamonn Kelly, the Irish bog body scholar, urges caution and humility. “They just don’t know enough to say, this is a person from France who turned up in Ireland. I do think we’re going to get useful scientific advances that we can’t even comprehend now, but there’s also a lot of pseudoscience in the field of archaeology. Scientists give you a particular result, but they don’t tell you about the limitations and the drawbacks.”
In this case, it might turn out that Ole Nielsen is troubling Tollund Man’s dreamless sleep for very little. One of the reasons for taking off Tollund Man’s hat was to send a hair sample to Karin Frei. “Ole has been after me to do this for some time, but Tollund Man’s hair is very short,” says Frei.
Almost a year after telling me this, Frei wrote to give me an early preview of her results. They were meager—much less informative than Frei’s investigations of Haraldskjaer Woman. Frei compared the strontium in Tollund Man’s short hair with the strontium in his femur. Small differences in the strontium isotope’s proportions between the two samples suggest that while he spent his final year in Denmark, he might have moved at least 20 miles in his final six months.
That’s critically important for Nielsen. Every new tidbit unravels another thread in the deeply human mystery of these bog bodies. “It will never end. There will always be new questions,” he says. “Tollund Man doesn’t care. He’s dead. This is all about you and me.”
Editor’s Note: Scientist Karin Frei performed her comparative analysis of the bog body Haraldskjaer Woman with Huldremose Woman, not Egtved Girl, as previously stated in the text.
In the overcrowded world of fictional characters, there are few faces as adorable as Tintin’s. Unlike Batman, Superman, or Wonder Woman, Tintin, the young investigative reporter, is not a household name in America, but he is definitely one of the most beloved figures in Europe.
With no specific magic powers, he is the antithesis of a superhero, but that didn’t prevent him from being widely admired by both children and adults. Charles de Gaulle once declared that Tintin is his only international rival, saying that “nobody notices, because of my height. We are both little fellows who won’t be got at by big fellows.”
Tintin and his fox terrier, Snowy, appeared for the first time on January 10, 1929, in the children’s supplement of the Belgian newspaper Le Vingtième Siecle. What started as the subject of a supplement went on to become a symbol of the 20th century, appearing in an independent comic book, on television, and even on the big screen in Steven Spielberg’s animated movie The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn.
Georges Prosper Remi, known by the pen name Hergé, is the man behind the creation of Tintin. With almost no formal training, Hergé began drawing the legendary comic-book character in 1929, but little did he know that by doing so he would give birth to an entire European comics publishing industry.
Since 1929, Tintin comics have sold more than 200 million copies, and over the years, this beloved character served as an inspiration for many people and influenced the ways comic book readers perceive the world around them. But what actually inspired Hergé to create the iconic character?
Debate still exists on what exactly inspired Hergé to come up with the snub-nosed teenage reporter, but most people agree that it was a real life person known by the name Palle Huld. It is one of the most original of origin stories in the comic book world.
Less than a year before Tintin made his first appearance, in the children’s supplement of Le Vingtième Siecle, a15-year-old Danish Boy Scout named Palle Huld won a competition organized by a Danish newspaper to mark the centennial of Jules Verne.
The winner of the competition would re-enact Phileas Fogg’s voyage from Verne’s famous novel Around the World in Eighty Days. Strangely enough, only teenage boys were allowed to take part in the competition, and the 15-year-old was the perfect match. There was another twist: The winner had to complete the journey within 46 days,without any company and without using planes.
Hundreds of Danish teenagers applied to participate in the competition, and Palle was lucky enough to be chosen. He started his journey on March 1, 1928, from Copenhagen and traveled by rail and steamship through England, Scotland, Canada, Japan, the Soviet Union, Poland, and Germany.
His journey made the headlines at the time and when he arrived in Denmark, he was already a celebrity. Over 20,000 admirers greeted their hero when he came back home.
The next thing he did was write a book about his journey, which was quite popular among his admirers, and published in several languages. That book also came into the hands of a Belgian cartoonist known by the name of Hergéand that same year, when Huld’s book was published, Tintin made his debut.
Huld himself suggested on several occasions that he was the inspiration for Tintin. However, others believe that the inspiration behind the character was actually the French travel photojournalist Robert Sexe, whose journeys were exactly in the same order as Tintin’s first three books.
Nonetheless, true Tintin fans couldn’t care less. For them it is all about the character, a hero they all know and love, representing something that others don’t have: uncompromising vigilance and the need to succeed no matter what the cost.
Tintin proves that a hero doesn’t need to be big or strong, he or she just needs to be tenacious and stubborn enough to do what needs to be done.
Maritime lore abounds with stories of ghost ships, those ships that sail the world’s oceans manned by a ghostly crew and destined never to make port. The most well known of these tales is that of the Mary Celeste. But one of the eeriest stories has to be the mystery of the Octavius.
The story opens in 1761 with the Octavius docked in the port of London to take on a cargo destined for China. This majestic sailing ship left port with a full crew, the skipper, and his wife and son. They arrived safely in China and unloaded their cargo. They headed back to sea once she was loaded with goods destined for British shores, but as the weather was unusually warm, the captain decided to sail home via the Northwest Passage, a voyage that at the time had not been accomplished. This was the last that anyone heard of the vessel, her crew, or her cargo. Octavius was declared lost.
On October 11, 1775, the whaling ship Herald was working the frigid waters off Greenland when it spotted a sailing ship. On nearing the ship, the crew saw that the ship was weather beaten–the sails were tattered and torn and hanging limply on the masts.
The captain of the Herald ordered a boarding party to search the vessel, which they had determined was the Octavius. The boarding party arrived on deck to find it deserted. They broke open the ship’s hatch and scrambled down the ladder into the semi-darkness below, where a terrifying sight met their eyes. They found the entire 28-man crew frozen to death in their quarters. In the captain’s cabin, they found the captain seated at his desk, pen in hand, with the ship’s logbook open on the desk in front of him. The inkwell and other everyday items were still in their place on the desk. Turning around, they saw a woman wrapped in a blanket on the bunk, frozen to death, along with the body of a young boy.
The boarding party was terrified; grabbing the ship’s log, they fled from the Octavius. In their mad flight, they lost the middle pages of the logbook that were frozen solid and came loose from the bookbinding. They arrived back on the Herald with just the first and last pages of the logbook, which were enough for the master of the Herald to determine at least a part of the story of the voyage. The captain of the Octavius had tried to navigate the Northwest Passage, but his ship had become imprisoned in the ice of the Arctic, and the entire crew had perished. The ship’s last recorded position was 75N 160W, which placed the Octavius 250 miles north of Barrow, Alaska.
As the Octavius had been found off the coast of Greenland, it must have broken loose from the ice at some stage and completed its voyage through the passage to come out on the other side, where it met the Herald. The crew of the Herald were frightened of the Octavius and feared that it was cursed, so they simply left it adrift. To this day, it has never been sighted again.
Author David Meyer has tried to track down the story of the Octavius. In his blog, he considers the idea that the Octavius could be the same ship as the Gloriana, which was boarded in 1775 by the captain of the Try Again, John Warrens. He recorded that he found a frozen crew that had been dead for 13 years and the date of the discovery was spookily similar–November 11, 1762. Are these tales of the same vessel? In the Gloriana story, there is no mention of the Northwest Passage, which remains even today a place of mystery and magic but that adds just that little bit of spice to the tale ofOctavius.
This makes an excellent ghost story for around the campfire. Did the Octavius eventually run aground and sink, or does she still sail the high seas with a crew of skeletons at the wheel?
In the last decade, Lisbon has become one of the most popular cities in Europe. It takes only one visit to this European gem to understand why: pleasant climate, delicious food and wine, enjoyable music evenings, and a myriad of sights.
Moreover, this so-called City of Seven Hills offers spectacular panoramic views over its picturesque architectural structures. Lisbon’s seven hills have had a crucial influence on the urbanization and intra-city transportation systems.
The viewpoints, or miradouros in Portuguese, can be found in lots of places around Lisbon, however, there is one popular tourist hotspot which takes visitors to a unique belvedere–the ornate elevator Santa Justa or Elevador de Santa Justa (Port.)
In Lisbon, there are four historic elevators that are national monuments-the Lift of Glory (1885), the Ascensor de Bica (1892), and Ascensor de Lavra (1884), although the Santa Justa, a 45-meter construction in Neo-Gothic style, is the most attractive. This lift was built in the 19th century and opened in 1902 when wrought iron was considered both a construction material and art form. The work began two years prior to the opening in order to replace the initial animal-powered inclined rail lift with a vertical elevator. In 1901, King Carlos inaugurated the lift, which became fully operational the following year.
The construction of the Santa Justa was funded by the royal house, and on the opening day over 3,000 tickets were sold. By the end of the first year after its opening, over half a million passengers were estimated to have been in the lift, so its popularity flourished and kept on rising.
The elevator Santa Justa’s structure is embellished with appealing Neo-Gothic arches and geometrical patterns, while its inside includes two wooden carriages that transport passengers up the steep hill in the Baixa district to the ruins of the Carmo convent and church through the exit at the upper level. In the past, this lift was a very useful service, which eased the difficulty in climbing up the steep Carmo Hill. However, nowadays it’s one of the most valuable landmarks in Lisbon.
Elevador de Santa Justa was designed by the architect Raoul Mesnier de Ponsard, the former apprentice and civil engineer of the now celebrity architect Gustav Eiffel, the designer of the Eiffel Tower in Paris. When Ponsard finished his studies, he returned to his hometown and decided to put his knowledge into practice.
This fact explains the similarities concluded between the Elevador de Santa Justa and the Eiffel Tower and the epithet “the Eiffel Tower of Portugal.” The lift includes two cabins which can carry 25 people at once, both decorated with wood panels and brass fittings that take off every morning early at around 7 AM and finish work at 11 PM.
Initially, the elevator was powered by steam, but since 1907 it has been using electricity with a safer and cleaner motor which still powers the lift. When visitors reach the top, they step on the platform which can be reached by a spiral case, and relax with a coffee in the cafe while drifting away into the magnificent view of the Baixa neighborhood, the Rossio square or the castle on the opposite hill. At night, the Santa Justa belvedere becomes a real romantic oasis in the crowded urban Portuguese jungle.
In 1973, the Elevador de Santa Justa came under public ownership and was taken over by the Carris Corporation, the executive manager of Lisbon’s tram network. This act has integrated the elevator in the public network of the city, thus, today, a ride on the lift can be obtained with the 24-hour public transport ticket purchased at any metro station. The Santa Justa is open seven days a week and works around 16 hours a day. In 2002, Elevador de Santa Justa, along with the Gloria, Bica, and Lavra cable railways, were all recognized as national monuments.
The authentic ambiance of Santa Justa continues even after its closing hours in the summer with street music bands that perform in front of the lift’s entrance, entertaining the late night audience who enthusiastically enjoys the colorful vibes and sensations of Lisbon.