Holiday Snaps

Tollund Man-1

In 1969/70 I lived and worked in a crafts community at the edge of Durness in Sutherland on the North coast of Scotland. I lived with the family of David and Lotte Illingworth at the community which still exists and is called Balnakiel. Lotte, who has reverted to her maiden name, Glob, still works nearby making beautiful sculptural ceramic pieces.
Lotte’s father was P.V. Glob an archaeologist who was Director of the National Museum in Copenhagen and Director General of Museums and Antiquities for the state of Denmark. It was in this capacity that P.V. Glob made his investigations into the life and death of Tollund Man, the perfectly preserved remains of an individual from the Iron Age found in a Danish peat bog in 1950.
Living alongside and talking with these remarkable people had a profound effect on this 20 year old naive young man and shaped much of what I still think of as among the most important things. The sense of David Illingworth’s precision and creative energy. The organic nature of Lotte’s vision and the force of her workmanship. The excitement of P.V. Glob’s investigations and how they brought the past to life.  The fact that people could live lives which were of their own choosing in places which many others might consider hostile environments was new to me.
We had many conversations about Tollund Man and the other remains which the bogs released over the years and I read Glob’s fabulous book, “The Bog People” like a detective story. I must have said over and over that I would one day visit Silkeborg, where the remains were discovered, and see Tollund Man for myself.
It has taken very nearly 50 years to make that visit but we did finally get to meet this remarkable and enigmatic chap and make a portrait photograph.
He is in a room all by himself in Silkeborg Museum. Each wrinkle and mark on the skin of his face is perfectly preserved along with a light spread of distinct ginger stubble on his chin. On his head is a leather cap stitched and sown well over 2000 years ago and placed on his head at the time of his mysterious death. A knotted cord of woven hide strips forms a noose around his neck and this had been used to hang him.
It is possible that he had once been a high ranking individual sacrificed to whatever powers controlled the harvest and climate and made life possible for those hard pressed people. That his death might have been judicial rather than ceremonial can’t be discounted but it is a strange thing that when you discuss these matters in his presence you get a very strong sense of being a little transgressive. What if he’s listening? This is no skull or mummy. This is a real, gentle human face just like those we spend our days with.
We spent quite a lot of time with Tollund Man and then had cake and left Silkeborg. But before we were out of the building the ticket seller at the door, having recognised our sad attempt at asking for entrance in pathetic Danish as English had found the entry Seamus Heaney  had made in the museum visitors book. He confided in us that if Heaney had gone to Aarhus to see this peat-brown head he would have missed Tollund Man by about 50 miles.
I
Some day I will go to Aarhus
To see his peat-brown head,
The mild pods of his eye-lids,
His pointed skin cap.
In the flat country near by
Where they dug him out,
His last gruel of winter seeds
Caked in his stomach,
Naked except for
The cap, noose and girdle,
I will stand a long time.
Bridegroom to the goddess,
She tightened her torc on him
And opened her fen,
Those dark juices working
Him to a saint’s kept body,
Trove of the turfcutters’
Honeycombed workings.
Now his stained face
Reposes at Aarhus.
II
I could risk blasphemy,
Consecrate the cauldron bog
Our holy ground and pray
Him to make germinate
The scattered, ambushed
Flesh of labourers,
Stockinged corpses
Laid out in the farmyards,
Tell-tale skin and teeth
Flecking the sleepers
Of four young brothers, trailed
For miles along the lines.
III
Something of his sad freedom
As he rode the tumbril
Should come to me, driving,
Saying the names
Tollund, Grauballe, Nebelgard,
Watching the pointing hands
Of country people,
Not knowing their tongue.
Out here in Jutland
In the old man-killing parishes
I will feel lost,
Unhappy and at home.

 

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About Fred Chance

Independent Photographer
This entry was posted in Memory, Photography and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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