Bog bodies, also known as bog people, are preserved human bodies found in sphagnum bogs in Northern Europe, Great Britain and Ireland. Unlike most ancient human remains, bog bodies have retained skin and internal organs due to the unusual conditions of preservation. Under certain conditions, the acidity of the water, the cold temperature and the lack of oxygen combine to tan the body's skin: skeletal preservation is very rare in these bodies, as the acid in the peat dissolves the calcium carbonate of bone. The bodies provide very useful research material for archaeologists. Some of the bodies retain intricate details like tattoos and fingerprints. C.H. Vogelius Andersen was astonished to find that Graubelle Man’s hand prints were clearer than his own. The stubble and facial features of Tollund man are particularly well preserved.
Bog bodies found
More than a thousand bog bodies have been found in regions associated with the Celts of the Iron Age. The earliest bog body, that of Koelbjerg Woman, has been radiometrically dated to be about 5500 years old. The newest is of the 16th century AD, a woman in Ireland who may have been buried in unhallowed ground following a suicide (PBS NOVA). By far the majority of the bog bodies belong to the Celtic Iron Age, some as late as the 4th century AD.
Preserved bodies of humans and animals have been discovered in bogs in Britain, Ireland, northern Germany, the Netherlands, Denmark (both Jutland and Zealand), and southern Sweden. Records of such finds go back as far as the 18th century. The first bog body to be discovered was that of Kibbelgaarn body in the Netherlands, in 1791. It is not readily apparent at the time of discovery whether a body has been buried in a bog for years, decades, or centuries. However, during the 20th century, forensic and medical technologies (such as radiocarbon dating) were 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 their skin, reconstruct their appearance and even determine what their last meal was by their stomach contents. Their teeth also show how old they were and what type of food they ate throughout their life time.
How victims were killed
Many bog bodies show signs of being brutally killed, stabbed, bludgeoned, hanged and strangled, more than once by all means. The nipples of Old Croghan Man were sliced almost through. The corpses were sometimes decapitated, then deliberately buried in the bog, staked down with stakes or twisted willow or hazel withies. Interpretations of the forensic examinations vary; it is debated whether they were ritually slain and placed in the bog as an execution for a crime, or as a human sacrifice (See also: Celts and human sacrifice). 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. 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 one of the Weerdinge Men found in southern Netherlands, the entrails have been partly drawn out through incisions.
However, in light of a recent National Geographic article, it may be possible that these injuries were not always inflicted by other people as a means of torture, but rather the weight of the bog. This would explain instances of smashed bones and the like.
The unity of the details of violent ritual slaughter over such a wide swathe of Northern Europe is a testament to a broadly unified culture, one which corroborates the breadth of material culture found in Celtic Iron Age archaeological sites of the La Tène type.
In the case of the "mummies" of Cladh Hallan the burials have been interpreted as a primitive method of embalming significant individuals.
X-ray is a very important step in uncovering the bog bodies as it can draw a picture of a body in the peat, which can then be removed without harming it by cutting blindly. Radio carbon dating is also very common as it accurately gives the date of the find, most usually from the Stone Age. In terms of determining the cause of death of the bodies, in a surprising number of cases there are obvious signs of violence and murder. The Tollund Man, for example, had a rope knotted round his neck and Windeby I had been staked down under the water.
Because the peat marsh preserve soft internal tissue, the stomach contents are able to be analyzed. These give a good picture of the diet of those people. Facial reconstruction is one particularly impressive technique used in studying the bog bodies. Originally designed for identifying modern faces in crimes, 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 1993 by professor 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), and Windeby Girl (Archäologisches Landesmuseum, Schleswig, Germany).
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