Friday, 26 July 2019

The Elling woman

The Elling woman is a danish bog body and quite famous in the longhair circuit for her long, well preserved hair and complicated braided updo.

I have tried recreating her style several times, but it doesn't really work so well for me. A modified, simplified version works pretty well, but not a close-to-original-recreation, no. It's not a style designed for thick or heavy hair.

I visited the museum she is exhibited in, along with author-friend, engineer-friend and Mr Igor.

The museum is Museum Silkeborg, located in (You guessed it) the town of Silkeborg in north western Denmark.

The first building hosts exhibits from the stone age and almost up to modern times along with the gift shop.
The second building is reached by going through the first building and hosts exhibits about the danish iron age, and a nice little cafe that makes a pretty good apple cake.
(Which led to some discussion in the squad, since I was the only one not completely grossed out by sour cream on said cake. Our group consisted of me, my Swedish hubby, a French-German and a French, so... It must be a cultural thing since this is perfectly acceptable in Denmark? What do you guys think?)
But most important of all: This building has two of the most well known bog bodies in the world, resting just a few meter apart just like when they were buried.

All pictures should be clickable for a larger size.

The iron age clothes were quite colourful!
The exhibit of Mr. Igor showing off in "his" chainmail is not permanent.


They had a very nice little exhibit about historical hair and beard, many of them something I recognize from the longhair circuit.
Note the small combs on the black pedestal.

Some of the styles are of course speculative and based on carvings in wood or stone, and not actual styles that have been found.

The top left blonde updo is the Suebian knot, that I also tried recreating.
I thought the complicated braids on the blonde doll to the right was a speculative reconstruction, but apparently that style has been found preserved.

The Elling woman herself almost blends in with the rest of her exhibit. Only her hair sticks out from above her leather "sleeping bag". Of course the most famous part is her updo and not much else of the body is preserved. In fact the body was so damaged on discovery that the sex was unknown until the clothes showed she is a woman.
The Elling woman is of course mostly famous for her hair and updo, but even that was hard to make out. I'm impressed the researchers have managed to make out exactly what was done to her hair. For me, it was hard to tell.

The Elling woman died age 25-30 years old at around 360-210 BC. She was found in 1938.
This is around a time period called the pre-Roman iron age or the Celtic iron age in Denmark. The names almost speak for themselves: The finds have a strong Celtic influence in style and decoration, and it's the time before the Roman iron age started influencing northern Europe.
This is also a time where there have been noticeably less finds than other time periods, which combined with knowledge about climate change to a colder and more hostile climate has led to speculations of a drop in population.
Of course this has also led to many theories on why so many bog bodies are from around this time: Changes in the local plant life, prey animals being affected by this and bad harvests could easily make people desperate to appease their gods. The general lack of findings from this time makes the bog bodies even more remarkable and valuable.

Her hair is surprisingly thin in person. I always assumed it was a lot thicker from seeing the famous drawing of the updo structure.
Of course this explains why this updo is such a "Was fun to try for the historical aspect, but doesn't work well for me" for so many fellow longhairs.
And it really is: It still blows my mind that you can replicate a style someone used 2229-2379 years ago to keep her hair neat and gathered up.

It is not known what her original haircolour was, since the bog dyes hair, skin and clothing over time. However, her hair is darker than the Tollund man who was found in the very same bog, close to each other and having been buried a maximum of 195 years before.

The actual hairstyle is this:

  1.  The crown part of her hair is gathered, swept back and braided in a English braid.
  2. At the nape, an additional 4 strands are added. All seven strands are twirled like rope to keep them separated from each other.
  3. But the seven strands are braided from the nape in bundles of two, two and three strands into a English braid.
  4. The braid is secured in a knot, but might have become messed up and damaged during the sacrifice and burial. The exact look of the original knot is not known and maybe it was more complicated than what we see today.
  5. The loose ends are gathered in two strands that are twirled around themselves and each other.
  6. The braid from the nape length on has been pulled up under the top English braid (This is surprisingly comfortable actually) and twirled around the base twice. 
  7. The rest of the braid and loose strands hang down the back. But again, this might have come loose during the sacrifice and burial, and it might have been fully secured with the braid completely turned into a bun.

The fact that all the strands are kept twirled separately to form a "rope" while simultaneously being fed into a three-stranded braid in bundles like this, makes me doubt she did this style herself. She must have had someone else who could actually see what they were doing, doing the twirling and braiding at the same time to create this style. Also I would think you need an extra pair of hands to help holding on to the strands or doing the twisting.

Here is my own lazy/comfortable-Elling variation for comparison:
(Or rather, what I could actually do with only two hands and my own braiding abilities)


I haven't been able to find an accurate recreation of this style on youtube, which supports my theory that the Elling woman didn't braid this hairstyle on herself.

There are some very nice variants though. And I guess the end result is close enough.
But it does seem to have some symbolic or cultural value to make such a distinct seven-ish stranded braid, when a normal three stranded would be a lot easier and no one would be able to tell unless they got up close to examination it.

But the most famous bog body in the museum is not the Elling woman.

The museum also hosts a permanent exhibit of the most famous bog body in the world: Tollundmanden.
The Tollund man lived to around 40 years old and was short for his time, at only 161 cm (5 foot 3). He was found just 40-100 meter away from the Elling woman 12 years later (Distance varies from source to source) He was hung between 405 and 384 BC, so somewhere between 24 and 195 years before the Elling woman.The reason the Tollund man is so exceptionally well preserved is that he was placed in a bog on a day where the temperature was below 4 degrees Celsius, so the bog had time to take effect before decay set in.

And he is famous for a good reason. He is simply fascinating and disturbing at the same time.
At least 2400 years old and you can still see his cheek stubble, wrinkles and the peaceful look on his face. Someone obviously took great care to make sure he went into the afterlife looking peaceful. I almost expected him to yawn and blink. You automatically lower your voice near him. It's uncanny.

More about the Tollund man
And a little more here
Again, pictures should be clickable for a larger size.


  1. This was fascinating, thank you for this article. I almost feel like I was in the museum with you.

    Oh, and regarding the sour cream: in my experience, quite normal in northern Germany, less so in the southern parts. I'd have eaten that cake gladly, I love sour cream, even eat it straight out of the cup.

    1. I think this was probably the blog entry I enjoyed writing the most, like, ever! Also I realized I haven't ever seen a proper article written on the Elling woman anywhere in the longhair circuit, which is a little weird because she is so famous and there have been plenty Danish longhairs and northern Europeans in the longhair circuit, so SOMEONE should have written something on her before, but no?
      Thank you for the information! Actually this makes a lot of sense since "German friend" is really "Alsacian, so German minority in France-Friend", which is just way too long and complicated. But Northern Germany and Denmark really seems to stick together when it comes to food and a whole lot of cultural things, so this makes a lot of sense :) Thank you

  2. You are such a super writer. Thanks for taking time to detail all this, enjoyed it much.

    1. Really happy you enjoyed reading it :) It was fun to write!

  3. I loved this entry!! I love history!! It's amazing at how they have found such well preserved remains from so long ago. I would wonder if her hair (the Elling woman) had been an elaborate style if she was sacrificed to the Gods. If that was the case, then likely someone did this style for the sacrifice and possible not a common style? I'm thinking about my own hair and how it pisses me off when it gets in my face if I am doing something--I would want my hair up and out of the way. I only like it down if I am doing something of a social function or just bumming around the house (which I doubt they did in those times)

    1. Yes, seriously. It boggles the mind to think how long ago this was. And this is not just tools or stone monuments, but the real, actual *people* preserved.
      Yep, I agree. I refuse to believe that this was an every day style. It's just too complicated and troublesome to create. The way the braid is looped back up behind the other part of the braid is very comfortable and easy, but the way the braid is created with the "bundles" and rope structure just seems needlessly complicated and must definitely be ritualistic.

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