Grauballe Man's World

Waking up early, the man got up quietly and quickly dressed in several layers of linen and warm woollen clothes. He put on his belt with his knife, tied sturdy leather shoes around his feet and walked to the other side of the house, where the animals were kept. He fed the ox with the little they had left. “We’ve got a busy day ahead of us buddy”, he said as the ox started to munch happily on the food.


The man returned to the other side of the house and it was not long before the rest of the family rose and breakfast, a gruel of oats and seeds, was being cooked on the fire. One of the young ones was unhappy, as there were no berries or even a bit of apple to make the meal tastier. It had been a harsh winter and food stores were running very low now. The child was strong though, and favoured by the gods. He would make it through until spring. Unlike their youngest, who had died a few weeks earlier. They grieved of course, but it had happened before and was likely to happen again; the gods both give and take. He just hoped that next year’s harvest would be richer and the winter less hard. Last week the village had sacrificed an ox and offered it and a few pots of their best grain to the gods, beseeching them to provide for their people. The omens had been favourable and today the man and his neighbours would go out with their oxen and plough the fields so they could sow the new crops. If the gods were good, they would have a bountiful harvest and his family would not have to go hungry again.

This scene, set in an Iron Age house in Denmark at the time of Grauballe Man (around 400 BC) is fictional, but it is based on facts. From archaeological finds and excavations we know what an Iron Age house looked like and how oxen were used for ploughing small fields, where a range of cereals and other crops were grown. The remains of meals in the stomachs of bog bodies like Grauballe Man demonstrate what people ate. Bog bodies, bog finds and well-preserved burials also provide insight into the clothing Iron Age people made and wore. We know that children sometimes went hungry and that many died before they reached adulthood. The offerings we find in bogs often seem to relate to fertility. Given the fact that most Iron Age people were farmers, this is no surprise. Below you can read more about these farmers and their lives.