One of the most atmospheric attics in all of the world to me is the British Museum. I could wander alone through floor after floor, hall after hall, for days on end and never get bored. I even love the smell of the place – old, dusty, decaying, all niced up by a feel of scholarly honor. You can practically walk through history here – from the Egyptians to the Greeks to the Romans to the Celts – it’s all here.
Back a few years ago, I was in London on business and I had a free afternoon. It was one of those quintessential London days – drizzly rain, cool, overcast – I could think of no better place to spend the afternoon than my favorite museum in all the world. When you walk in, you get the normal hustle and bustle of tour groups, school groups, and basically chaos – people grabbing a souvenir or discussing their next destination for the day. Once you clear the lobby and begin making your way through the halls – quiet descends and after a while you can really only hear a occasional whisper or footstep on the marble floors. This is when the magic happens.
Treasures abound in every direction – the Elgin Marbles from Greece, mummies from Egypt, the remains of ship burials from Saxon England – but one of the most fascinating finds is Lindow Man. On this particular rainy day, I met him for the first time.
Although he lived over 2000 years ago, the expression on his face is still visible, making him seem more….human. Some have speculated that he was part of a ritual sacrifice carried out by Druids. What is known is the last meal he consumed, his station in life, and how he was killed. Amazingly enough, the peat bog preserved his skin, hair and internal organs. He was around 25 years old at the time of his death, and although not unwell, he was suffering from parasitic worms. The physical evidence shows that he was hit on the head twice with most likely an axe. He sustained a knee blow to the back, breaking one of his ribs. The thin cord, still visible around his neck, was used to strangle him and perhaps break his neck. Finally, although dead at this point, his throat was cut and he was placed face down in the bog. Other human remains have also been found in this same bog, hinting at it being used more than once for a sacrifice. The reasons why exactly are lost to time.
What struck me most as I stood staring at this man’s earthly remains, was my imaginings of the scene that had unfolded near this bog all those years ago. Why was he chosen as the victim? Was he scared or honored or both? Was his family present? These and other questions swam around in my mind as people filed past on their way to see the Egyptian mummies. This man was a human being, just like me and the others walking past. He lived and he died according to the laws of his time, not much different from people I’ve known. The laws of his time now seemed barbaric, inhuman, but there was something of great value here – a spark of curiosity. Lindow Man and other exhibits generate a curiosity about another time, another culture. Their existence pushes us too seek knowledge about them. Through this quest for knowledge, we get to know them and by doing so, ourselves.
Travel is a beautiful thing.