Bog body

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Tollund Man lived in the 4th century BCE, and is one of the best studied examples of a bog body. Tollundmannen.jpg
Tollund Man lived in the 4th century BCE, and is one of the best studied examples of a bog body.

A bog body is a human cadaver that has been naturally mummified in a peat bog. Such bodies, sometimes known as bog people, are both geographically and chronologically widespread, having been dated to between 8000 BCE and the Second World War. [1] The unifying factor of the bog bodies is that they have been found in peat and are partially preserved; however, the actual levels of preservation vary widely from perfectly preserved to mere skeletons. [2]


Unlike most ancient human remains, bog bodies often retain their skin and internal organs due to the unusual conditions of the surrounding area. Combined together, highly acidic water, low temperature, and a lack of oxygen preserve but severely tan their skin. While the skin is well-preserved, the bones are generally not, due to the dissolution of the calcium phosphate of bone by the peat's acidity.

The oldest known bog body is the skeleton of Koelbjerg Man from Denmark, who has been dated to 8000 BCE, during the Mesolithic period. [1] The oldest fleshed bog body is that of Cashel Man, who dates to 2000 BCE during the Bronze Age. [3] The overwhelming majority of bog bodies – including examples such as Tollund Man, Grauballe Man and Lindow Man – date to the Iron Age and have been found in northwest European lands, particularly Denmark, Germany, the Netherlands, the UK and Ireland. Such Iron Age bog bodies typically illustrate a number of similarities, such as violent deaths and a lack of clothing, which has led archaeologists to believe that they were killed and deposited in the bogs as a part of a widespread cultural tradition of human sacrifice or the execution of criminals. [1] [4] Bogs could have indeed been seen as liminal places positively connected to another world, which might welcome contaminating items otherwise dangerous to the living. [4] More recent theories postulate that bog people were perceived as social outcasts or "witches", as legal hostages killed in anger over broken treaty arrangements, or as victims of an unusual death eventually buried in bogs according to traditional customs. [4]

The German scientist Alfred Dieck published a catalog of more than 1,850 bog bodies that he had counted between 1939 and 1986 [5] [6] but most were unverified by documents or archaeological finds; [7] and a 2002 analysis of Dieck's work by German archaeologists concluded that much of his work was unreliable. [7] The newest bog bodies are those of soldiers killed in the Russian wetlands during the Second World War. [1]

Bog chemistry

Sphagnum moss, which aids in the preservation of bog bodies Raselink.jpg
Sphagnum moss, which aids in the preservation of bog bodies

The preservation of bog bodies in peat bogs is a natural phenomenon, and not the result of human mummification processes. [1] It is caused by the unique physical and biochemical composition of the bogs. [8] Different types of bogs can affect the mummification process differently: raised bogs best preserve the corpses, whereas fens and transitional bogs tend to preserve harder tissues such as the skeleton rather than the soft tissue. [8]

A limited number of bogs have the correct conditions for preservation of mammalian tissue. Most of these are located in colder climates near bodies of salt water. [9] For example, in the area of Denmark where the Haraldskær Woman was recovered, salt air from the North Sea blows across the Jutland wetlands and provides an ideal environment for the growth of peat. [10] As new peat replaces the old peat, the older material underneath rots and releases humic acid, also known as bog acid. The bog acids, with pH levels similar to vinegar, conserve the human bodies in the same way as fruit is preserved by pickling. [11] In addition, peat bogs form in areas lacking drainage and hence are characterized by almost completely anaerobic conditions. This environment, highly acidic and devoid of oxygen, denies the prevalent subsurface aerobic organisms any opportunity to initiate decomposition. Researchers discovered that conservation also required that they place the body in the bog during the winter or early spring when the water temperature is cold—i.e., less than 4 °C (40 °F). [11] This allows bog acids to saturate the tissues before decay can begin. Bacteria are unable to grow rapidly enough for decomposition at temperatures under 4 °C. [11]

The bog chemical environment involves a completely saturated acidic environment, where considerable concentrations of organic acids and aldehydes are present. Layers of sphagnum and peat assist in preserving the cadavers by enveloping the tissue in a cold immobilizing matrix, impeding water circulation and any oxygenation. An additional feature of anaerobic preservation by acidic bogs is the ability to conserve hair, clothing and leather items. Modern experimenters have been able to mimic bog conditions in the laboratory and successfully demonstrate the preservation process, albeit over shorter time frames than the 2,500 years that Haraldskær Woman's body has survived. Most of the bog bodies discovered showed some aspects of decay or else were not properly conserved. When such specimens are exposed to the normal atmosphere, they may begin to decompose rapidly. As a result, many specimens have been effectively destroyed. As of 1979, the number of specimens that have been preserved following discovery was 53. [12] [13]

Discoveries such as Rost Girl no longer exist, having been destroyed during the Second World War. Rost Girl.jpg
Discoveries such as Röst Girl no longer exist, having been destroyed during the Second World War.

Historical context

Mesolithic to Bronze Age

The oldest bog body that has been identified is the Koelbjerg Man from Denmark, who has been dated to 8000 BCE, during the Mesolithic period. [1]

Around 3900 BCE, [14] agriculture was introduced to Denmark, either through cultural exchange or by migrating farmers, marking the beginning of the Neolithic in the region. [15] It was during the early part of this Neolithic period that a number of human corpses that were interred in the area's peat bogs left evidence that there had been resistance to its introduction. [16] A disproportionate number of the Early Neolithic bodies found in Danish bogs were aged between 16 and 20 at the time of their death and deposition, and suggestions have been put forward that they were either human sacrifices or criminals executed for their socially deviant behaviour. [16] An example of a Bronze Age bog body is Cashel Man, from 2000 BCE. [3]

Iron Age

Windeby I, the body of a teenage boy, found in Schleswig, Germany Windeby I upper-body.jpg
Windeby I, the body of a teenage boy, found in Schleswig, Germany

The vast majority of the bog bodies that have been discovered date from the Iron Age, a period of time when peat bogs covered a much larger area of northern Europe. Many of these Iron Age bodies bear a number of similarities, indicating a known cultural tradition of killing and depositing these people in a certain manner. These Pre-Roman Iron Age peoples lived in sedentary communities, who had built villages, and whose society was hierarchical. They were agriculturalists, raising animals in captivity as well as growing crops. In some parts of northern Europe, they also fished. Although independent of the Roman Empire, which dominated southern Europe at this time, the inhabitants traded with the Romans. [17]

For these people, the bogs held some sort of liminal significance, and indeed, they placed into them votive offerings intended for the Otherworld, often of neck-rings, wristlets or ankle-rings made of bronze or more rarely gold. The archaeologist P.V. Glob believed that these were "offerings to the gods of fertility and good fortune." [18] It is therefore widely speculated that the Iron Age bog bodies were thrown into the bog for similar reasons, and that they were therefore examples of human sacrifice to the gods. [19] Explicit reference to the practice of drowning slaves who had washed the cult image of Nerthus and were subsequently ritually drowned in Tacitus' Germania , suggesting that the bog bodies were sacrificial victims may be contrasted with a separate account (Germania XII), in which victims of punitive execution were pinned in bogs using hurdles. [20]

Many bog bodies show signs of being stabbed, bludgeoned, hanged or strangled, or a combination of these methods. In some cases the individual had been beheaded. In the case of the Osterby Man found at Kohlmoor, near Osterby, Germany in 1948, the head had been deposited in the bog without its body. [21]

Usually, the corpses were naked, sometimes with some items of clothing with them, particularly headgear. The clothing is believed to have decomposed while in the bog for so long. [22] In a number of cases, twigs, sticks or stones were placed on top of the body, sometimes in a cross formation, and at other times, forked sticks had been driven into the peat to hold the corpse down. According to the archaeologist P.V. Glob, "this probably indicates the wish to pin the dead man firmly into the bog." [23] Some bodies show signs of torture, such as Old Croghan Man, who had deep cuts beneath his nipples.

Some bog bodies, such as Tollund Man from Denmark, have been found with the rope used to strangle them still around their necks. Some, such as the Yde Girl in the Netherlands and bog bodies in Ireland, had the hair on one side of their heads closely cropped, although this could be due to one side of their head being exposed to oxygen for a longer period of time than the other. Some of the bog bodies seem consistently to have been members of the upper class: their fingernails are manicured, and tests on hair protein routinely record good nutrition. Strabo records that the Celts practiced auguries on the entrails of human victims: on some bog bodies, such as the Weerdinge Men found in the northern Netherlands, the entrails have been partly drawn out through incisions. [24]

Modern techniques of forensic analysis now suggest that some injuries, such as broken bones and crushed skulls, were not the result of torture, but rather due to the weight of the bog. [25] For example, the fractured skull of Grauballe Man was at one time thought to have been caused by a blow to the head. However, a CT scan of Grauballe Man by Danish scientists determined his skull was fractured due to pressure from the bog long after his death. [25]

Medieval to Modern periods

Amongst the most recent, the corpse of Meenybradden Woman found in Ireland dates to the 16th century and was found in unhallowed ground, with evidence indicating that she may have committed suicide and was therefore buried in the bog rather than in the churchyard because she had committed a Christian sin.[ citation needed ] She may have also been unable to afford proper burial. [26] Bog bodies have also formed from the corpses of Russian and German soldiers killed fighting on the Eastern Front during the First World War in the Masurian Lake District region of north-eastern Poland. [6]

North America

A number of skeletons found in Florida have been called "bog people". These skeletons are the remains of people buried in peat between 5,000 and 8,000 years ago, during the Early and Middle Archaic period in the Americas. The peat at the Florida sites is loosely consolidated and much wetter than in European bogs. As a result, the skeletons are well preserved, but skin and most internal organs have not been preserved. An exception is that preserved brains have been found in nearly 100 skulls at Windover Archaeological Site and in one of several burials at Little Salt Spring. Textiles were also preserved with some of the burials, the oldest known textiles in Florida. [27] [28] [29] A 7,000-year-old presumed peat pond burial site, the Manasota Key Offshore archaeological Site, has been found under 21 feet (6.4 m) of water near Sarasota. Archaeologists believe that early Archaic Native Americans buried the bodies in a freshwater pond when the sea level was much lower. The peat in the ponds helped preserve the skeletons. [30] [31]

Discovery and archaeological investigation

Rendswuhren Man Moorleiche3-Schloss-Gottorf.jpg
Rendswühren Man
1903 excavation of the Kreepen Man KreepenMan.jpg
1903 excavation of the Kreepen Man

Ever since the Iron Age, humans have used the bogs to harvest peat, a common fuel source. On various occasions throughout history, peat diggers have come across bog bodies. Records of such finds go back as far as the 17th century, and in 1640 a bog body was discovered at Shalkholz Fen in Holstein, Germany. This was possibly the first-ever such discovery recorded. The first more fully documented account of the discovery of a bog body was at a peat bog on Drumkeragh Mountain in County Down, Ireland; it was published by Elizabeth Rawdon, Countess of Moira, [32] the wife of the local landowner. [33] Such reports continued into the 18th century: for instance, a body was reportedly found on the Danish island of Fyn in 1773, [34] whilst the Kibbelgaarn body was discovered in the Netherlands in 1791. Throughout the 18th and 19th centuries, when such bodies were discovered, they were often removed from the bogs and given a Christian burial on consecrated church ground in keeping with the religious beliefs of the community who found them, who often assumed that they were relatively modern. [35]

With the rise of antiquarianism in the 19th century, some people began to speculate that many of the bog bodies were not recent murder victims but were ancient in origin. In 1843, at Corselitze on Falster in Denmark, a bog body unusually buried with ornaments (seven glass beads and a bronze pin) was unearthed and subsequently given a Christian burial. By order of the Crown Prince Frederick, who was an antiquarian, the body was dug up again and sent to the National Museum of Denmark. According to the archaeologist P.V. Glob, it was "he, more than anyone else, [who] helped to arouse the wide interest in Danish antiquities" such as the bog bodies. [36]

After the Haraldskær Woman was unearthed in Denmark, she was exhibited as having been the legendary Queen Gunhild of the Early Mediaeval period. This view was disputed by the archaeologist J. J. A. Worsaae, who argued that the body was Iron Age in origin, like most bog bodies, and predated any historical persons by at least 500 years. [37] The first bog body that was photographed was the Iron Age Rendswühren Man, discovered in 1871, at the Heidmoor Fen, near Kiel in Germany. His body was subsequently smoked as an early attempt at conservation and put on display in a museum. [38] With the rise of modern archaeology in the early 20th century, archeologists began to excavate and investigate bog bodies more carefully and thoroughly.

Archaeological techniques

Reconstruction of the Girl of the Uchter Moor Moora hell.jpg
Reconstruction of the Girl of the Uchter Moor

Until the mid-20th century, it was not readily apparent at the time of discovery whether a body had been buried in a bog for years, decades, or centuries. But, modern forensic and medical technologies (such as radiocarbon dating) have been developed that allow researchers to more closely determine the age of the burial, the person's age at death, and other details. Scientists have been able to study the skin of the bog bodies, reconstruct their appearance and even determine what their last meal was from their stomach contents since peat marsh preserves soft internal tissue. Their teeth also indicate their age at death and what type of food they ate throughout their lifetime. [39] Subsurface radar can be used by archaeologists to detect bodies and artifacts beneath the bog surface before cutting into the peat. [40] Radiocarbon dating is also common as it accurately gives the date of the find, most usually from the Iron Age.

Forensic facial reconstruction is one technique used in studying the bog bodies. Originally designed for identifying modern faces in crime investigations, this technique is a way of working out the facial features of a person by the shape of their skull. The face of one bog body, Yde Girl, was reconstructed in 1992 by Richard Neave of Manchester University using CT scans of her head. Yde Girl and her modern reconstruction are displayed at the Drents Museum in Assen. Such reconstructions have also been made of the heads of Lindow Man (British Museum, London, United Kingdom), Grauballe Man, Girl of the Uchter Moor, Clonycavan Man, Roter Franz and Windeby I. [41] [42]

Notable bog bodies

Hundreds of bog bodies have been recovered and studied. [43] The bodies have been most commonly found in the Northern European countries of Denmark, Germany, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, and Ireland. In 1965, the German scientist Alfred Dieck catalogued more than 1,850 bog bodies, but later scholarship revealed much of the Dieck's work was erroneous, and an exact number of discovered bodies is unknown. [44]

Several bog bodies are notable for the high quality of their preservation and the substantial research by archaeologists and forensic scientists. These include:

See also

Related Research Articles

Lindow Man Preserved body of an Iron Age man found in a bog in England

Lindow Man, also known as Lindow II and as Pete Marsh, is the preserved bog body of a man discovered in a peat bog at Lindow Moss near Wilmslow in Cheshire, North West England. The remains were found on 1 August 1984 by commercial peat-cutters. Lindow Man is not the only bog body to have been found in the moss; Lindow Woman was discovered the year before, and other body parts have also been recovered. The find, described as "one of the most significant archaeological discoveries of the 1980s", caused a media sensation. It helped invigorate study of British bog bodies, which had previously been neglected in comparison to those found in the rest of Europe.

Tollund Man Iron Age bog body from Denmark that was hanged before death

The Tollund Man is a naturally mummified corpse of a man who lived during the 4th century BCE, during the period characterised in Scandinavia as the Pre-Roman Iron Age. He was found in 1950, preserved as a bog body, on the Jutland peninsula, in Denmark. The man's physical features were so well preserved that he was mistaken for a recent murder victim. Twelve years before Tollund Man's discovery, another bog body, Elling Woman, had been found in the same bog.

The year 1952 in archaeology involved some significant events.

Jens Jacob Asmussen Worsaae Danish archaeologist

Jens Jacob Asmussen Worsaae was a Danish archaeologist, historian and politician, who was the second director of the National Museum of Denmark (1865–1874). He played a key role in the foundation of scientific archaeology. Worsaae was the first to excavate and use stratigraphy to prove C. J. Thomsen's sequence of the Three-age system: Stone, Bronze, Iron. He was also a pioneer in the development of paleobotany through his excavation work in the peat bogs of Jutland. Worsaae served as Kultus Minister of Denmark for Christen Andreas Fonnesbech from 1874 to 1875.

Cladh Hallan Early neolithic and bronze age burial site at South Uist, Great Britain

Cladh Hallan is an archaeological site on the island of South Uist in the Outer Hebrides in Scotland. It is significant as the only place in Great Britain where prehistoric mummies have been found. Excavations were carried out there between 1988 and 2002, indicating the site was occupied from 2000 BC.

Peter Glob Danish archaeologist and bog body scientist

Peter Vilhelm Glob, also known as P. V. Glob, was a Danish archaeologist who worked as director General of Museums and Antiquities for the state of Denmark and was also director of the National Museum in Copenhagen.

Hjortspring boat A large canoe type vessel dated to 350 found in Hjortspring Mose at Als, Denmark

The Hjortspring boat is a vessel designed as a large canoe, from the Scandinavian Pre-Roman Iron Age. It was built circa 400–300 BCE. The hull and remains were rediscovered and excavated in 1921–1922 from the bog of Hjortspring Mose on the island of Als in Sønderjylland, southern Denmark.. The boat is the oldest find of a wooden plank ship in Scandinavia and it closely resembles the thousands of petroglyph images of Nordic Bronze Age ships found throughout Scandinavia.. The vessel is a clinker-built wooden boat of more than 19 metres length overall, 13.6 metres long inside, and 2 metres wide. Ten thwarts that could have served as seats, span the boat with room for two persons each; this suggests space for a crew of at least 20 who propelled the boat with paddles. The boat would have weighed an estimated 530 kilograms (1,168 lb), making it easily portable by its crew.

Yde Girl Iron Age bog body found in the Netherlands

Yde Girl is a bog body found in the Stijfveen peat bog near the village of Yde, Netherlands. She was found on 12 May 1897 and was reputedly uncannily well-preserved when discovered, but by the time the body was turned over to the authorities a fortnight later it had been severely damaged and deteriorated. Most of her teeth had been pulled from the skull by villagers as well as a large amount of hair. The peat cutting tools had also been reported to have severely damaged the body.

Grauballe Man Iron Age bog body found in Denmark

The Grauballe Man is a bog body that was uncovered in 1952 from a peat bog near the village of Grauballe in Jutland, Denmark. The body is that of a man dating from the late 3rd century BC, during the early Germanic Iron Age. Based on the evidence of his wounds, he was most likely killed by having his throat slit. His corpse was then deposited in the bog, where his body was naturally preserved for over two millennia. He was not the only bog body to be found in the peat bogs of Jutland: with other notable examples Tollund Man and the Elling Woman, Grauballe Man represents an established tradition at the time; it is commonly thought that these killings, including that of Grauballe Man, were examples of human sacrifice, possibly an important rite in Iron Age Germanic paganism.

Haraldskær Woman Iron age bog body from Denmark

The Haraldskær Woman is a bog body of a woman found naturally preserved in a bog in Jutland, Denmark, and dating from about 490 BCE. Workers found the body in 1835 while excavating peat on the Haraldskær Estate. The anaerobic conditions and acids of the peat bog contributed to the body's excellent preservation. Not only was the intact skeleton found, but so were the skin and internal organs. Scientists settled disputes about the age and identity of this well preserved body in 1977, when radiocarbon dating determined conclusively that the woman's death occurred around the 5th century BCE.

Windeby I bog body found preserved in a peat bog near Windeby, Northern Germany

Windeby I is the name given to the bog body found preserved in a peat bog near Windeby, Northern Germany, in 1952. Until recently, the body was also called the Windeby Girl, since an archeologist believed it to be the body of a 14-year-old girl, because of its slight build. Prof. Heather Gill-Robinson, a Canadian anthropologist and pathologist, used DNA testing to show the body was actually that of a sixteen-year-old boy. The body has been radiocarbon-dated to between 41 BCE and 118 CE.

Elling Woman Iron Age bog body found in Denmark

The Elling Woman is a bog body discovered in 1938 west of Silkeborg, Denmark. The Tollund Man was later discovered just c. 60 m (200 ft) away, twelve years after the Elling Woman's discovery. The Elling Woman was mistakenly described as a man in P.V. Glob's book, The Bog People.

Osterby Man bog body

Osterby Man or the Osterby Head is a bog body of which only the skull and hair survived. It was discovered in 1948 by peat cutters to the southeast of Osterby, Germany. The hair is tied in a Suebian knot. The head is at the State Archaeological Museum at Gottorf Castle in Schleswig, Schleswig-Holstein.

The Kayhausen Boy is a mummy, naturally preserved in a sphagnum bog in Lower Saxony, Germany. He is one of the few recorded bog children discovered.

The Borremose bodies are three bog bodies that were found in the Borremose peat bog in Himmerland, Denmark. Recovered between 1946 and 1948, the bodies of a man and two women have been dated to the Nordic Bronze Age. In 1891, the Gundestrup cauldron was found in a nearby bog.

In archaeology, waterlogging refers to the long-term exclusion of air by groundwater, which creates an anaerobic environment that can preserve artifacts perfectly. Such waterlogging preserves perishable artifacts. Thus, in a site which has been waterlogged since the archaeological horizon was deposited, exceptional insight may be obtained by study of artifacts made of leather, wood, textile or similar materials. 75-90% of the archaeological remains at wetland sites are found to be organic material. Tree rings found from logs that have been preserved allow archaeologists to accurately date sites. Wetland sites include all those found in lakes, swamps, marshes, fens, and peat bogs.

Damendorf Man is a German bog body discovered in 1900 in the See Moor at the village Damendorf in Schleswig-Holstein, Germany.

<i>The Bog People</i> Scientific publication about bog body finds

The Bog People: Iron-Age Man Preserved is an archaeological study of the bog bodies of Northern Europe written by the Danish archaeologist P.V. Glob. First published in 1965 by Gyldendal under the Danish title of Mosefolket: Jernalderens Mennesker bevaret i 2000 År, it was translated into English by the English archaeologist Rupert Bruce-Mitford and published by Faber and Faber in 1969. In 1966 it was translated into German by Thyra Dohrenburg and published by Winkler Werlag Munich under the title Die Schläfer im Moor.

Wetland deposits in Scandinavia overview about the Wetland deposits in Scandinavia

In many areas of Scandinavia, a wide variety of items were deposited in lakes and bogs from the Mesolithic period through to the Middle Ages. Such items include earthenware, decorative metalwork, weapons, and human corpses, known as bog bodies. As Kaul noted, "we cannot get away from the fact that the depositions in the bogs were connected with the ritual/religious sphere."



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