A pickled bog body – Grauballe Man’s conservation

After long discussions on the matter, it was decided to conserve Grauballe Man intact and in his entirety. This posed a big challenge to conservator G. Lange-Korbak, as nothing like this had ever been attempted and there were no methods available yet for the conservation of large waterlogged items of skin, hair, bone and soft tissue.

How to preserve an entire body?

Lange-Korbak knew that Grauballe Man’s body should not dry out, which is why he kept it wet at all times. He never left the bog man’s side, even accompanying him in the ambulance to the hospital, and noted any changes in his condition. He must have been very relieved, when after two months of intensive investigations, he could submerge Grauballe Man in water to which 1% of phenol was added to keep micro-organisms at bay.

Yet what next? How could he preserve Grauballe Man in the same state that the bog had? Known embalming techniques, found all over the world, often involve drying bodies, but this shrinks the bodies considerably. Submerging the body into a solution of formaldehyde was another option, but over time, soft tissue will become somewhat flaccid. Moreover, the body could not be displayed in this way. A few years previously, the head and foot of Tollund Man, another bog body, had been preserved by using paraffin, but this too resulted in shrinkage.

Tanning Grauballe Man

Lange-Korbak received tips on how to conserve Grauballe Man from all over the world. A French newspaper reader suggested building a wooden pyramid over Grauballe Man which would capture cosmic rays and ensure mummification. Yet Lange-Korbak, who had studied Grauballe Man’s leather-like skin and had spoken to a colleague in Germany, concluded that the bog had actually started to tan Grauballe Man’s body. The best way to preserve him therefore, was to complete this tanning process.

The artificial bog

Thus, an artificial bog was created in a large box filled with oak bark and water. Grauballe Man’s body was stuffed with oak bark and wrapped in oil cloth before being lowered into the box, which was packed with oak bark and filled with water. Grauballe Man lay in this tanning bath for a total of 18 months. The oak bark and water were refreshed twice and Grauballe Man’s condition checked. After 18 months in this bath, Lange-Korbak declared the tanning process a succces: “Grauballe Man is now leather”.