Bog Bodies, or the Bog People, are extremely well preserved ancient corpses that have been discovered in peat bogs of Europe. Bog Bodies are found in various states. Some are merely skeletons and can only reveal a limited amount of information to scientists. Others are partially preserved and still hold clues as to who they were and how they died. Finally, there are those that have been completely preserved with their clothes still intact and their facial expressions the same as they had been when they were buried.
The Bog Bodies are so well preserved because of where they were buried. Though it is important to note that they were not actually buried; they were placed in the bog water and usually covered with branches. Typically, Bog Bodies are found when workers drain sphagnum bogs and extract the peat moss. They have been turning up for some time and no one is sure how many may have been found and discarded in the past, today documented discoveries of Bog Bodies number around 700.
The bogs in which these bodies were placed are near saltwater. The peat moss in these bogs collects the salt from the air and releases acid into the bog water. The water then permeates throughout the cells in the corpse. Because of the acid, bacteria cannot survive in these bogs, so the bodies do not decompose as they normally would. Instead, they slowly become mummified. Over time, the process leaves the flesh of the corpse a dark leathery brown. This preservation has given us a lot of insight into how these Bog People died, and it often was not pretty.
The Hildremose Woman was found in Denmark. She is suspected to have died between 160 BC and 340 AD. Her body was mutilated so badly that one of her arms was completely cut off.
The body of a sixteen-year-old girl was found in Holland. She most likely died between 170 BC and 230 AD. Her body showed signs of strangulation. The rope she was strangled with is still around her neck.
The Elling Woman was found in Denmark. She probably died between 160 BC and 340 AD. She was hanged and the noose that was used to kill her was still around her neck when she was discovered.
The Tollund Man is probably the most disturbing of all the Bog Bodies. His face is perfectly preserved and life like. He could almost be sleeping, were it not for the unnatural color of his face. He still wears a hat that was on his head at the time of death. He was between 30-40 years old when he died. He was hung, similarly to the Elling Woman. The noose remains as well.
In 2003, diggers uncovered the torso of a bog man who was subjected to torture. This torso is known as the Oldcroghan Man. What is left of the man’s body contains several stab and slice wounds. A rope had been run through two holes in his upper arms, presumably as a grotesque means of restraining the man. He was also cut in half and beheaded. He was in his twenties at the time of his murder.
The Clonycavan Man was also discovered in Ireland in 2003, just 25 miles away from where the Oldcroghan Man was discovered. Radiocarbon dating suggests that he and the Oldcroghan Man lived between 392 B.C. and 201 B.C. He had been struck in the head three times with an axe and once again in the chest. He was also disemboweled before his body was dumped in a peat bog. Like the Oldcroghan Man, the Clonycavan Man was in his early twenties when he was murdered.
Interestingly, the Clonycavan Man’s hair was styled in a sort of ancient pompadour before he was killed. His hair is preserved this way. What is so interesting about this is that the Clonycavan Man used an ancient hair gel to style his hair. The Oldcroghan Man showed evidence of having carefully manicured fingernails. This goes to show that people were as aware of their appearance then as they are now.
The oldest of the Bog Bodies dates from around 8000 BC and the youngest from early medieval times. The clothing found on some of these bodies is preserved perfectly with them. This tells us a lot about the clothing of their time. Scarves, hats, belts, shoes, capes and skirts have been found on the Bog Bodies. Most of them are made of woven wool or leather. Scientists have also been able to analyze the contents of some of the Bog People’s stomachs. A lot of them seem to have eaten gruel shortly before their death. This leads some to believe that they were given a last meal before they were sacrificed. Other Bog Bodies appear to have been the recipients of trepanning surgery.
Bog Bodies have been found in other places, but none are as well preserved as the mysterious Bog People of northwestern Europe. These bodies have given quite a bit of insight into the people of their various times, but they still hold many secrets. We can get a good glimpse of the food they ate, the weapons they used and the clothing they wore, but the reason some of them were murdered is still a matter of debate. Were they criminals? Were they victims of ritual sacrifice? We may never know.
Why are the bog bodies preserved for thousands of years?, retrieved 6/25/09, .tollundman.dk/bevaring-i-mosen.asp
Violence in the bogs, retrieved 6/25/09, archaeology.org/online/features/bog/violence1.htm
Owen, James, Murdered “Bog Men” Found with Hair Gel, Manicured Nails, retrieved 4/3/10, news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2006/01/0117_060117_irish_bogmen.html