Iron Age people - Health

In the Early Iron Age, between c. 500 BC until the birth of Christ, c. 300,000 people lived in Denmark. They were children, women and men, just like us. Grauballe Man and other bog bodies, as well as skeletal remains from the period provide us with an insight into the general health of these Iron Age people.

Age at death

Healthcare as we know it did not exist yet in the Iron Age and people generally did not live as long as we do today. Half of the adults that survived into adulthood died before they reached the age of 35. Every third or maybe even second child died young and women could die in childbirth. Men were sometimes killed in battle as reflected by finds of skeletons with arrow or sword wounds. Hunger after failed harvests and infectious diseases were dangerous to all people. As a result, few people would have been older than 50 in Grauballe Man’s time.

Iron Age health

Skeletons and bog bodies also reveal a lot about people’s health in life. Grauballe Man, Tollund Man and several other bog bodies suffered from intestal parasites like whip worm and maw worm. This was probably common as hygiene standards were lower than they are today. Grauballe Man’s teeth were heavily worn, because of a coarse diet. This too is common in the prehistoric period, and especially after farming is introduced. Small bits of grit and sand were included in cereals and the flour ground on stone quernstones as reflected in Grauballe Man’s gut contents, which contained both sand and grit. Grauballe Man had lost a tooth and four molars in life and he suffered from a tooth ache when he was killed. Studies on other Iron Age people show that tooth ache and tooth loss were common in the Iron Age.

Strong bones

Grauballe Man’s bones were strong and healthy, without any signs of disease. Yet many of his contemporaries, just like many people today, suffered from osteo-arthritis, a condition in which the soft surface between bones in joints, wears down. It is mostly caused by repetitive physically straining activities, like house construction, peat cutting, ploughing and the processing of crops. Iron Age farmers in Grauballe Man’s time led active lives undertaking such straining activities on a daily basis.