In front of me, folded neatly in a glass case, is a blanket The fabric is tightly woven wool. It has a short tasselled fringe and is the colour of a Crayola Light Tan crayon. It looks similar to one I have at home. It is 2000 years old.
2000 years. My brain struggles to register this. The human mind dislikes the concept of time. This is a deliberate defence mechanism. If we could accurately comprehend the fleeting, momentary, nature of our lives we would go insane. Even writing these words I do not really absorb them. That is a good thing. It is not so handy when endeavouring to appreciate artifacts in a museum.
This is a blanket my eyes tell me. It is very old. Agreed and accepted. It is 2000 years old I read from the label. ‘Oh that’s great’ says my brain, brushing off the information before continuing to gently hum to itself. ‘What’s next?’
The blanket owes its survival to the oxygen-poor bog where it was placed in the 2nd century BC. It belonged, or should that be belongs, to the woman from Huldremose who, perhaps even more miraculously, was also preserved in the peat and lies a few feet from her possession. As hard as it is to process the age of a piece of fabric, it is harder still to absorb what it means to be face to face with a person who walked the earth sometime around the point we decided to start our year count from the beginning again. I try and am unsettled. Suddenly it all seems very real and not at all distant, like a bright light has been turned on allowing me to see what was hidden before: The finger-worn grooves on a wooden oar; the softened edges of a pendant smoothed against skin; the potter’s marks in clay, both the sharp incision of his signature and the free whorl of his prints. I am surrounded by the fragmented traces of hundreds of lives and their weight is overwhelming.
The bog people and their treasures are just some of many mind melting exhibits at the National Museum of Denmark in Copenhagen. Runic stones, hoards of amber, silver amulets and viking shields, are all displayed with care and a delicate blend of aesthetics and information. All of this is free, which makes it a must and allows multiple visits to give the brain an opportunity to understand what it is seeing. We went four times.
Some photographs from the Museum. I took none of the woman from Huldremose or her bog brethren, somehow it didn’t seem right.