Tuesday, August 08, 2017

The Huldremose Woman

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.

source: National Museum, museumsinspektør Flemming Kaul
source: wikipedia

photo: grethe bachmann/ stig bachmann nielsen, Naturplan foto.
photo: wikipedia

Tuesday, August 01, 2017

Dill / Dild - a useful and pretty spice herb

Anethum graveolens

Dill is an annual herb in the celery family apiaceae, and it is the only species in the genus Anethum. Dill is widely grown in Eurasia where its leaves and seeds are used as a herb or spice for flavouring food. Dill is related to fennel and parsley and its leaves are very similar to fennel. The Danish name Dild comes from a Nordic word meaning pjalt (rag), which might indicate that the plant has a Nordic relation from origin, contrarily to all other spice- and kitchen herbs.

Dill originates from Central Asia and the plant grows wild in the Middle East. It was known in ancient Egypt, and from here it spread to Greece, Rome and the rest of Europe. Today dill is first of all used in northern, middle and eastern Europe while it used to a minimum in the Mediterranean.

Dill grows up to 40–60 cm with slender hollow stems and alternate, finely divided, softly delicate leaves.  The flowers are white to yellow, in small umbels. Fresh and dried dill leaves (sometimes called "dill weed" to distinguish it from dill seed) are widely used as herbs in Europe and Central Asia.


Dill is a commonly cultivated spice herb and medical plant. It is a magnificent  culinary spice and also used in tea. The young fresh leaves are used in salads and fish dishes and as a ganiture. Later in summer the ripe dill umbels are used as a spice in fx cucumber pickling. Like caraway, the fernlike leaves of dill are aromatic and are used to flavor many foods such as gravlax (cured salmon) and other fish dishes, borscht and other soups, as well as pickles. Dill is best when used fresh as it loses its flavour rapidly if dried; however, freeze-dried dill leaves retain their flavor relatively well for a few months.

Dill seeds, having a flavor similar to caraway but also resembling that of fresh or dried dill weed, is used as a spice. Dill oil  is extracted from the leaves, stems and seeds of the plant. The oil from the seeds is distilled and used in the manufacturing of soaps.

In central and eastern Europe, Scandinavia, Baltic states, Russia and Finland dill is a popular culinary herb, used in the kitchen along with chives or parsley. Fresh, finely cut dill leaves are used as topping in soups, especially the hot red borscht and the cold borsht mixed with curds, kefir, yoghurt, or sour cream, which is served during hot summer weather and is called okroshka. It is also popular in summer to drink fermented milk (curds, kefir, yoghurt, or buttermilk) mixed with dill (and sometimes other herbs).In Scandinavia dill is a common spice/kitchen herb.

In the same way, prepared dill is used as a topping for boiled potatoes covered with fresh butter – especially in summer when there are so-called "new", or young, potatoes. The dill leaves can be mixed with butter, making a dill butter, which can serve the same purpose.

The etheric oil is used in the perfume industry and in some liqueors.

Folk Medicine

Dill was recommended for breastfeeding women, since it stimulates the milch production and secures that the baby will get a better sleep. Dill seeds were often used as a laxative, and dill-water was drunk against nausea, acid reflux, flatulence and other stomach trouble. Henrik Smid warns against the use of dill since it makes people lazy and incapable of sex.  If the flower umbels were hung up by the bed they worked somnolent. Dill in oil was said to be effective against ear ache - and it was recommended as the best means against hickups. The etheric oil has a driving and calming effect. Abscesses from the plague were rubbed with dill.

Dill Snaps

The dill seeds were written in the pharmacopoeia in 1772.

Medicine for livestock:
Dill was used as a prevention against rinderpest. Calves with tympania were given dill-tea. Dill was also used in diseases of the horse.

A young girl should wear dill, when walking in the woods. At her wedding the bride should have dill seeds in her shoes, and the groom should have dill seeds in his pocket. This would make a happy wedding. Valborg-evening 30/4 or Midsummernight 24/6 the cattle was given dill with garlic as a protection against witchcraft. If the dill plant was placed upon the brewing tub the beer was not bewitched. On Christmas night dill and honey were given the cows as a protection against witchcraft. 


Dill has a long history and  is mentioned already ab. 1500 BC in the Egyptian papyrus-rolls . Dill was also used in the Roman Empire and is mentioned here in a collection of recipes Apicius from ca. year 400 BC. The Romans brought the plant with north - later it was also spread with the monks up to Scandinavia.

In Anglo Saxon England, as prescribed in Leechdoms, Wortcunning, and Starcraft of Early England (also called Læceboc, many of whose recipes were borrowed from Greek medicinal texts), dill was used in many traditional medicines, including those against jaundice, headache, boils, lack of appetite, stomach problems, nausea, liver problems, and many other ills. Dill seeds can also be used to prepare herbal tea. In ancient Greece fragrance was made from the leaves of dill. Also, athletes used to spread essence of dill all over their body, as muscle toner.

In 1967 were at the market of Copenhagen sold 1.125.375 bundles of dill.

images from wikipedia 

Source: Klosterurter, Krydderurter i haven, Køkkenurter, Brøndegaard: Folk og flora.