Windeby I (once known as Windeby Girl)

Windeby Girl

Windeby I (known originally as The Windeby Girl), discovered in northern Germany, is one of the many bodies discussed in Bodies from the Bog. Photo taken from the cover.

The Landesmuseum of the Schloss Gottorf on the outskirts of Schleswig, Germany, displays an enormous Viking ship and a number of complete bog bodies ("moorleichen" in German) as well one partially preserved head.

The two most famous bodies are known as Windeby I and Windeby II. Windeby is an estate near Schleswig that contains a small bog. In 1952, the owners decided to cut the peat and sell it for fuel. Shortly, workers discovered the body of Windeby I. Although the peat-cutting machinery had already severed one of the legs, a foot, and a hand, work was stopped immediately to study the discovery.

P. V. Glob (who believed the person to be a female) in The Bog People described the body's position in the peat:

She lay on her back, her head twisted to one side, her left arm outstretched.... The right arm was bent in against the chest, as if defensively, while the legs were lightly drawn up, the left over the right. The head, with its delicate face, and the hands, were preserved best: the chest had completely disintegrated and the ribs were visible.... The hair, reddish from the effects of the bog acids but originally light blond, was of exceptional fineness but had been shaved off with a razor on the left side of the head.

The body's eyes were blindfolded with a strip of cloth woven from brown, yellow, and red threads. The person had drowned in the first century A.D., and the death was not an accident--the body was anchored by a large stone and branches from a birch tree. Glob imagined the person being "led naked out on to the bog with bandaged eyes ... and drowned in the little peat pit, which must have held twenty inches of water or more."

Originally, scientists concluded that Windeby I had died an unnatural death during the First Century A.D. The body seemed to have been prepared for death in a number of unusual ways. First, like some other bog bodies that have been found, half of the head had been shaved of hair. Second, a woolen headband had been used to blindfold the eyes. Finally, a collar had been placed around the neck. As a result of these special preparations, most researchers agreed initially that Windeby I was not sacrificed to the gods. 

Although they could not find any wounds on the body, scientists suspected that the person was drowned in the bog, held down in perhaps twenty inches of water by some branches and a large stone. But they had no idea why Windeby I was killed. Could the person have been a criminal who was being executed in a gruesome way? Could the person have been afflicted with some type of disease that may have marked her for an early death? No one will ever really know, though many theories have been proposed. 

In 1970, when the body was reexamined, so little of it remained that scientists could not say with certainty that the body was female. They realized that Windeby Girl could actually be Windeby Boy.

Over thirty years later (referenced in National Geographic, September 2007), another look at Windeby I revealed more definitive information. A professor from North Dakota State University tested a DNA sample from the body and concluded that it was indeed male. What's more, the hair had not been shaved from half of the head. Rather, the professor believes that it became dislodged during the careless excavation. 

Research on the body's bones (also in National Geographic, September 2007) indicates that the young man had been quite sick during his life time and "may have simply died of natural causes." One German scholar suggested that Windeby I may have been blindfolded at burial "to protect the living from the gaze of the dead."

A short time after the discovery of Windeby I, a man's body (now known as Windeby II) was found sixteen feet away. Unlike Windeby I, he had been strangled first and then placed in the bog. Sharpened, forked branches had been jammed into the peat around him to make sure that he stayed put.

The three other bodies displayed in separate dioramas at the Landesmusuem of the Schloss Gottorf are men from Damendorf, Rendswühren, and Dätgen. All are named for the areas where they were discovered and, like Windeby I and II, all were sacrificed. But the most interesting item discovered from nearby peat bogs is probably the one from Osterby: a man's head, which was wrapped in a cape made of deerskin. Although peat workers searched for its body, none could be found, and scientists speculate that the Osterby head alone was used as a sacrifice. It has a full head of hair, arranged in an unusual style: one section of hair was twisted and woven into a figure-eight knot--without the use of a fastener.

For more information about bog bodies, visit the Bog Section at The Mummy Tombs.

©James M. Deem. Portions of this account are taken from How to Make a Mummy Talk (Houghton Mifflin, 1995; Dell, 1997)




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