‘Red Kristian’ and the dating controversy

As the scientific investigations of Grauballe Man’s body were taking place, the press followed he proceedings very closely. In this way, the wider public was kept up to date on the progress and the latest findings.

The Red Kristian controversy

The many articles on Grauballe man published in the newspapers were accompanied by pictures and this led to a controversy over who he really was. A local farmer’s wife, Jensine Jensen, saw a picture of Grauballe Man in an article and immediately recognised him as and old acquaintance from her childhood. The man she saw was Kristian, or Red Kristian as he was known, because of his red hair and beard.

Kristian, who was 42, had worked in the peat bogs around Grauballe and one night in 1887 he had taken a short-cut through the bogs on his way back home. After this he was never seen again. It was not until 1955, when Grauballe Man was lying in a vat so he could be conserved for posterity, that Jensine went public with her speculations. Rumour about Red Kristian and the incompetency of science quickly began to spread, and the public became divided into two camps – for and against Red Kristian. There was need for a scientific date if Professor Glob and other experts were to prove that they had not recovered, displayed and investigated the body of a recently deceased local peat cutter from the bog.

Radiocarbon dating

At this time, Grauballe Man’s liver had already been removed and sent to the newly-founded radiocarbon-dating laboratory in Copenhagen. Radiocarbon dating was a very new dating method at the time. It is based on the fact that living organism take up carbon from the atmosphere. Once they die, they no longer take up carbon and the radioactive proportion of carbon within them begins to decline. By measuring how much of it remains in a sample, you can date the sample.

The result of Grauballe Man’s radiocarbon dating was delayed as atomic bomb tests by the USA and Soviet Union had polluted the atmosphere and the laboratory equipment had to be modified so the dating process could proceed within closed systems. Yet finally, in May 1957, the results of the radiocarbon dating of Grauballe Man’s liver became available and his true age was revealed. He lived and died in the Iron Age, around 310 AD and not in 1887. Although more recent dating has established a new date of c. 390 BC, Professor Glob’s good name was rehabilitated.