| Haraldskaer Woman |
|Site||Haraldskær Estate, Jutland Denmark|
|Location||St. Nicolai Church in central Vejle, Denmark|
The Haraldskær Woman (or Haraldskaer Woman) is a well-preserved Iron Age bog body naturally preserved in a bog in Jutland, Denmark. The body was discovered in 1835 by labourers excavating peat on the Haraldskær Estate. Disputes regarding the age and identity of this mysterious well preserved body were settled in 1997, when radiocarbon dating determined conclusively that her death occurred around 500 BC. This archaeological find was one of the earliest bog bodies discovered, the other two known being Tollund Man (Denmark) and Lindow Man (United Kingdom).
The body of the Haraldskær Woman is remarkably preserved due to the anaerobic conditions and tannins of the peat bog in which she was found. Not only was the intact skeleton found, but also the skin and internal organs. Her body lies in state in an ornate glass-covered coffin, allowing viewing of the full frontal body, inside the Church of Saint Nicolai in central Vejle, Denmark.
Her identity is unknown. However, for a period of time her identity was mistaken:
After discovery of the body, early theories of her identity centered on the persona of Queen Gunnhild of Norway, who lived around 1000 CE. Most of the bog bodies recovered indicate the victim died from a violent murder or ritualistic sacrifice. These theories are consistent with the body being put into a bog as opposed to burial in dry earth.
According to the Jomsvikinga Saga, Harald Bluetooth of Denmark ordered Queen Gunnhild be drowned in a bog. Based upon the belief of her royal personage, King Frederick VI of Denmark-Norway commanded an elaborately carved sarcophagus to hold her body.
This careful treatment of the Haraldskær Woman's remains explains the excellent state of conservation of the corpse; conversely, Tollund Man, a later discovery, was not properly conserved and most of the body has been lost, leaving only the head as original remains in his display.
In 1842, the young Danish archaeologist J. J. A. Worsaae disagreed the Haraldskær Woman was Gunnhild. A pioneer in archaeological stratigraphy, Worsaae presented evidence the Haraldskær Woman dated from the Iron Age. Later radiocarbon dating confirmed the body was not Gunnhild, but rather a woman of the early Iron Age who lived about 490 BCE.
Though no one proved the Haraldskær Woman has any royal lineage, her body lies in state in a display in the north transept of Saint Nicolai Church.
Naturally preserved by bog. The anaerobic conditions and acids of the peat bog contributed to the body's excellent preservation. Not only was the intact skeleton found, but so were the skin and internal organs.
Excavators found the body of the Haraldskær Woman in a supine position in an excellent state of preservation. She was naked and her clothes, consisting of a leather cape and three woolen garments, had been placed on top of her. Hurdles of branches and wooden poles pinned the body down. The complete skin envelope and the internal organs were both intact. The body had a lancing wound to the knee joint area, where some object (possibly one of the sharp poles) penetrated to some depth. Her skin was deeply bronzed with a robust skin tone due to tannins in the peat, and all the body joints were preserved with overlying skin in a state as if she had died only recently.
Danish author Steen Steensen Blicher, an amateur archaeologist and one of the first to visit the site, made the first literary reference to the Haraldskær Woman. In 1836, he published his novellaGravhøjen which was a parody about a mistaken archaeological find. However, by 1841 Blicher seemed to have changed his mind about the Haraldskær Woman's identity when he wrote the poemDronning Gunhild, a lament for the dead queen in the bog. In 1846, the Danish playwright Jens Christian Hostrup wrote his comedy, A Sparrow Doing a Crane Dance, (En Spurv i Tranedans), in which the ghost of Queen Gunnhild gives a magical ring to a scheming tailor and makes everyone blind to his actions. Hostrup's play indirectly satirized the theory that the Haraldskær Woman was Queen Gunnhild, and became the first major public endorsement of Worsaae’s hypothesis.
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