The Replica of Fet-Mats – Elsborg, Sweden - Atlas Obscura

The Replica of Fet-Mats

Falu Grava Visitors Center
Elsborg, Sweden

A reproduction of a mysteriously preserved body found in the 18th-century and put on display for years before burial.  

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Today, when someone finds human remains that appear to have died tragically, it might make the news, and hopefully be followed by a respectful burial or cremation. But propping up those remains as some kind of attraction is a thing of the regrettable past. But this was often done (including in ethnographic and natural history museums). Fet-Mats is an example of this practice.

Fet-Mats was a so-called “petrified man” whose remains were found in 1719. Miners found the body in a long-abandoned, water-filled tunnel. The body looked to have been unnaturally preserved, as though he had just died, leading to great confusion. This intensified once the body was retrieved. No one knew who the man was or where he had come from. The mystery was solved when an old lady came to see the body and recognized the man as Mats Israelson, her former fiancé, who had disappeared in 1677, 42 years earlier. As his remains dried, they took on a rock-like appearance, giving him the nickname “petrified man.”

Rather than being buried, the body became a local oddity, and was put into a blue display case, where it remained for about 30 years. Scientifically, people lost interest him after Carl Linneaus found that the body was not petrified, by rather covered in sulfate salts from the mine water, and that it would eventually decompose. Indeed, several years later the body started to blacken and smell.

The church eventually decided to bury Mats Israelson in 1749, but it was some time before his body ended up in a permanent grave. The city, not wanting to lose its star attraction, commissioned a replica. Over the years it has moved from the church to the city hall, and eventually to the Falu Grava mine visitors center. The display case is slightly hidden, in a corner on the far side of the building. No sign or description can be found. 

Know Before You Go

The display case can be seen for free in the visitors center during opening hours. Walk in, take a left into the exhibition room, and you will see him near the curtain.