The 2000-year-old clothes of the Huldremose Woman, a bog body recovered in 1879 from a peat bog near Ramten in Denmark.

February 22, 2024

The 2000-year-old clothes of the Huldremose Woman, a bog body recovered in 1879 from a peat bog near Ramten in Denmark. It consists of a checked woollen skirt, a checked woollen scarf and two skin capes. Now on display at the National Museum of Denmark

Huldremose Woman, or Huldre Fen Woman, is a bog body recovered in 1879 from a peat bog near the village Ramten in Jutland. Analysis by carbon 14 dating revealed the woman had lived during the Iron Age, around 160 BCE to 340 CE. The mummified remains are exhibited at the National Museum of Denmark (in Copenhagen). The elaborate clothing worn by Huldremose Woman has been reconstructed and displayed at several museums.

Huldremose dress, front/wikipedia

Over 2000 years ago the body of a woman was put into an old peat bog in Huldremosen at Ramten village on Djursland, Jutland. The special oxygen poor conditions in the bog meant that the woman was preserved as a bog body with skin clothes and stomach contents. She was found in May 1879 by a worker, Niels Hansen, who was digging turf for a schoolteacher in Huldremose. In one meters depth he hit the body with his shovel and cut off its right hand. The schoolteacher was interested in archaeology and stopped the digging, and he kept guard by the body for the next couple of days until the district-medical from Grenaa arrived with a pharmacist and a police chief. The first theory was that the body had been the victim of a crime. At that time there was little knowledge about how to handle a situation like this, and the body of the woman was brought to the nearest farm where she was undressed and got a good bath! In connnection to this cleaning her hair fell off.  The criminal proceedings were given up and the body of the mysterious woman was buried in the church yard by the parish church Ørum nearby.



Huldremose woman, wikipedia

The doctor washed her clothes and dried them in his yard – and he wrote to the National Museum in Copenhagen from where they sent a telegram that they wanted both the body of the woman and her clothes – so the body was dug up and sent with her clothes on steamship to Copenhagen. In spite of the rough treatment of the 2000 year old clothes they hadn’t suffered any damage – and they belong to the best preserved Danish textiles from antiquity.   Like most mummies found in Denmark the woman from Huldremose was fully dressed. Her dress is incredibly well preserved although it is 2000 years old.

She was more than 40 years old when she was  placed in the bog which was a high age at that time, in fact an old woman of Iron Age. The find has brought nutrition to various discussions and interpretations during times. A possible interpretation is that she was killed and following this sacrificed in the bog.The body was found with the legs bent behind the back, with a nearly severed right arm. Supposedly the arm was damaged by a shovel during excavation. Apart from this, the corpse was well intact.The dead lay with head west. The body was identified as a grown woman, probably rather slender built. The left thighbone had been broken and grown crookedly. She must have been limping.

spergula arvensis/ wikipedia

According to science exist many informations about what had happened to people who later became bog bodies. The stomach contents can reveal the person’s meal before death. It is known from the Huldremose woman’s stomach contents that her last meal was rough grinded ray with a big content of seeds from the weed spergel (spergula arvensis). In her stomach were also animal hairs and rests of animal tissue. This indicated that she also had meat in her dish.

She wore a dress with a checkered skirt and a checkered scarf in sheep wool and two skin capes. The skirt was held around the waist with a narrow leather strap woven into a waistband. The scarf was tied around her head and fastened under the left arm with a needle from a bird’s bone. On the upper body she wore outermost a cape made from several dark brown sheep skin with a collar of light sheep skin, the curly fur turning out. Under this she wore another cape with the fur side inwards. This was made from 11 small dark lamb skin. The cape was well used and had 22 sewn on patches. They did not cover a hole but contained a finely made bone comb, a narrow blue hair band and a lether strap, all wrapped in a bladder. This was obviously not a pocket, since the patches had to be cut up to get out the things. The insewen things possibly functioned as  amulets.

Huldremose woman, exhibition, National Museum/ wikipedia

Around the woman’s long red hair was bound a woolen strip, winded several times around her neck. around the neck she wore another woolen strip with two amber pearls.  An imprint upon her left hand revealed that she had worn a finger ring, but there is no trace of a ring today – it was probably removed in connection to the finding of the body in 1879. Deep inside she wore a cloth made of plant fibres, maybe nettle or flax. There are only a few traces of this on her skin and the main part of the material was decomposed in the bog. The checker of the skirt and the scarf was alternately light and dark wool, and the long stay in the bog made the fabric brown. Colour analyses have shown that the skirt originally was dyed blue and the scarf dyed red.

Huldremose, Djursland, photo:gb

When the Huldremose Woman was killed more than 2000 years ago and was put into a bog/moor at Djursland, the moors were important ressources for people of Iron Age. In the moors were dug turf which was used as a building material and as fuel. Some moors contained bog iron ore, a raw material, which after processing could be made into iron.  The moors had a great importance for the daily life,  but the moors and wet areas were also a gate between two worlds –  the world of humans and the world of the gods. Humans sacrificed to the gods by putting gifts down into the water. The gifts were killed livestock, clothes, jewelry, tools and clay pots filled with food. The sacrifical gifts were meant to secure a good and abundant harvest. The greatest sacrifice was another human.

Tollund man, photo: stigbachmannnielsen, Naturplan foto

It is not known what happened in connection to the death of the Huldremose woman. She was fully dressed, had a ring on her finger, amulettes in one skin cape and two amber pearls around her neck, so she was not robbed of her possesions by her killers. Across her breast was a staff of willow wood. These features more reminds about care for the dead like in a funeral and not about a simple getting rid of a body after a crime. Maybe she died as the part of a ritual and was then placed in a sacred moor. Or she had abused the laws and had to fine for this with her life. But her burial was not a usual burial like a funeral pyre or a burial service of the Iron Age people.

Forensic analyses have shown that the Huldremose woman had got a violent cut in her right upper arm. The theory was earlier that the cut of the arm was the reason for her death, and that she died from blood loss. Later investigations could not verify this theory, and it is possible that the damage might have happened later, fx in the turf digging of the bog. While she was alive she broke her right leg, but this fracture healed before her death. Her hair was bound with a long woolen cord laid several times around her neck. There are no marks on the neck which might indicate strangulation. Maybe the cord had a symbolic meaning. Strangulated people are known from other Danish bog bodies, like the bodies from Elling and Borremose and the famous Tollund Man.

About one hundred Danish bog bodies are preserved up till today because of the special good preservation conditions in the peat bogs. The mummified bog bodies where skin, hair and stomach contents are preserved count about a fourth, while the rest of the bog bodies are only skeletal parts. The most well preserved bodies like the Huldremose woman,  the Grauballe man and the Tollund man are found in raised bogs, where the necessary sour and oxygen poor condition is present.