Swedish bog man murdered – 700 years ago

Seven hundred years after he lived, the cause of death of Sweden's oldest human skeleton has been solved. He was murdered - with three blows to the head.

It had previously been assumed that the skull of the Bocksten Man, who was found in Bocksten bog outside Varberg in 1936, was damaged by the pressure of lying buried in the bog since the 1300s.

But when one of Sweden’s leading cranial experts, Professor Claes Lauritzen, who heads the craniofacial unit at Sahlgrenska University Hospital, examined a plastic model of the Bocksten Man’s cranium on Monday, that theory was dismissed.

Lauritzen is certain that the injuries were inflicted with brutal violence.

The Bocksten Man was struck on the lower jaw, followed by a blow near the right ear and then another further back on the head. The final blow would have killed him instantly and he was probably already lying down. Some sort of pole or hammer could have been used as a weapon.

“The last blow split the skull,” said Claus Lauritzen.

Together with Tim Hewitt, a plastic surgeon from Australia, Lauritzen constructed a cranial model with a view to creating as faithful a replica as possible of the Bocksten Man’s skull.

However, Lauritzen, who himself grew up in Varberg, had not expected to solve the mystery of his death.

“I’m a bit surprised that nobody did this kind of analysis earlier, but that’s probably because they were being so careful with the original skull,” he said.

The ‘operation’ was performed in one of Sahlgrenska’s plastic surgery clinics, observed by reporters and photographers clad in green gowns.

The two surgeons shaped and bent the plastic, screwing it together with steel bands.

“This reminds me very much of how we work in normal cases,” said Lauritzen.

The model was constructed with the help of computer tomography. During the operation the lower jaw and the skull damage were reconstructed. The face was widened slightly, since the original was thought to have been pressed together after hundreds of years in the bog.

Eventually model maker Oscar Nilsson will give the Bocksten Man a ‘real’ face. The final result will be displayed in Varberg Museum in the summer.

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