Scientists have created a detailed biography of a Stone Age man’s life through new scientific methods. A Swedish-Danish research team from the University of Gothenburg can now say they have traced where the “Vittrup Man”, a bog body found in Denmark, traveled during his lifetime.

The Vittrup Man was discovered in 1915. His skull had been fractured by at least eight blows and his body was placed in a peat bog in northern Jutland. Until recently, this was all that was known about him. Researchers can now report he had traveled extensively before his death around 3200 BCE. He seems to have lived an eventful life.

He came from the north, a relatively cold coastal area, as his diet as a child included seafood, explains archaeologist Karl-Göran Sjögren from the research team. The researchers believe he grew up in what is now northern Norway.

But when he was around 18-19 years old, he ended up in Denmark for unknown reasons. His diet then switched from seafood to locally produced agricultural foods.

He lived for 10 to 20 years in a Danish farming community before meeting a violent death, says Sjögren. Through analyzing his dental tartar, isotopes in his teeth and skull, researchers were able to trace his geographical and dietary shifts from birth to death. They believe this is the first time anyone has mapped an individual’s entire lifetime in such detail from this distant past.

The study, published in PLOS ONE, is part of broader research recently published in Nature analyzing the genomic and DNA data of prehistoric Nordic populations. The Nature study examined the DNA and dietary markers of 100 teeth and bone fragments from Denmark.

The Vittrup Man was among them. His genome differed noticeably from other Danish Stone Age people, showing closer ties to contemporaneous groups in Scandinavia. This motivated closer study of his origins and life course.

Isotope analysis of the man’s teeth and bones supported his non-local origin. While questions remain about how he ended up in Denmark or what caused his violent death, archaeologists theorize he may have been ritually sacrificed based on similar practices at the time.

This new technique reveals unprecedented insights into individual lives from thousands of years ago and shows the increasing power of scientific methods to uncover the untold stories of prehistory.


Sources

University of Gothenburg | Fischer A, Sjögren K-G, Jensen TZT, Jørkov ML, Lysdahl P, Vimala T, et al. (2024) Vittrup Man–The life-history of a genetic foreigner in Neolithic Denmark. PLoS ONE 19(2): e0297032. doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0297032


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