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20 January 2006
Hair-gelled Celt may have been sacrificed

The hair-gelled head of an ancient Celt, dubbed the Iron Age Beckham because of his slicked-back look, has been reconstructed by Scots scientists. Examinations of the Clonycavan man, found fully preserved in a peat bog in Ireland, revealed he used a gel made from a mixture of plant oil and pine resin, believed to be from south-west France or Spain, on his hair. The discovery has been held up as the first evidence of the trade of luxury goods between Ireland and Southern Europe 2,500 years ago. Archaeologists suggest the gel may have been applied in an attempt to increase the man's diminutive stature - he was only 5ft 2in tall.
     Now a team of scientists at the University of Dundee has reconstructed the Iron Age face from the man's preserved remains, and Dr Caroline Wilkinson, a forensic anthropologist, said that the discovery of the primitive hair product was one of the more 'surprising' finds of the project. "He has quite a forward-facing profile and not a very strong chin, but I don't think he'd look all that different to the faces you see today," she said.
     Forensic anthropologists and forensic artists at Dundee University used a state of the art computer system to recreate the facial appearance of the Iron Age man and then add glass eyes, skin tone and hair. The forensic scientists were in an unusual position when reconstructing the man's facial features because his skull had dissolved due to the acidic chemical composition of the peat bog where he was found. This meant they had to create a human face by "reinflating" the squashed but preserved soft tissue of Clonycavan man, named after the area where he was found. Caroline Needham, a forensic artist, said: "Because we did not have a skeletal structure to work from, we had to work from soft tissue which was very squashed.    
     Archaeologists believe that Clonycavan man was an aristocrat who may have been part of a ritualistic sacrifice. The mummified corpse had signs of violent blows to the back of the head. Ned Kelly, the head of antiquities at the National Museum of Ireland, said: "My belief is that these burials are offerings to the gods of fertility by kings to ensure a successful reign."
     The body was found by a farmer operating a peat-cutting machine in 2003 in Clonycavan, near Dublin. The man had been so well preserved that detectives originally thought he was a victim of an IRA murder from the 1970s. It is now thought that he lived between 392 and 201 BCE. Since being found, the body has been preserved in wet peat and exposed for only two days at a time. More than 350 'bog bodies' have been found in Northern Europe, although fleshed remains are extremely rare.

Sources: BBC News, The Scotsman (19 January 2006)

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