In northern Europe, more than 1,000 corpses belonging to the Iron Age have surfaced in sphagnum bogs throughout the continent. Dubbed ‘bog bodies,’ the dead are preserved due to a natural mummification that separates them from other methods of preservation. In this article, you will learn about some of the important human remains that help shed light on this type of mummification.
The unusual conditions of their final resting places cause the bodies to retain their skin and internal organs. A mixture of cold temperatures, highly acidic water, and an absence of oxygen, contributes to the preservation of bodies in bogs. The ancient remains are found with severely tanned skin , not by the sun, but in the same manner as leather.
The conditions in which the bodies are found are quite fascinating. Many of the bodies show signs of trauma, such as being hung, strangled, stabbed or bludgeoned. Sometimes, a combination of the before-mentioned methods was used. Before burial, some corpses had their heads removed. Other bodies endured torture, as seen in the discovery of the Old Croghan Man, where under his nipple , deep cuts were found.
The fates of the bodies are relatively unknown. Forensic evidence could point to ritual killings, punishment for crimes, or ceremonial human sacrifice. However, other realms of modern techniques suggest that some of the injuries previously thought to be broken bones and crushed skulls were not from tortuous acts, but surfaced due to the weight of the bog. In the past, the fractured skull of the Grauballe Man (seen as one of the best preserved bog bodies in the world) was thought the handiwork of a blow to the head. However, after undergoing a CT scan, Danish scientists learned that the pressure of the bog caused the fracture to his head , long after he had died.
Today, you can view the Grauballe Man at the Moesgaard Museum, located near Aarhus, Denmark. He was originally discovered in 1952 by a person digging in the peat in a bog situated close to the village of Grauballe in Jutland, Denmark. Researchers used carbon dating to place him living around 290 BC.
While the skin of bog bodies are well preserved, their bones are not, as acid in the peat works to dissolve the calcium phosphate of bone. However, researchers are allowed to analyze complex details of the past, such as fingerprints and tattoos. In the case of the Tollund Man, his facial features and even stubble were preserved to give a fascinating picture of a man from the past. As a well-known bog body, the Tollund Man (a Denmark find) made headlines because he was preserved with a rope still around his neck.
Other places where bog bodies have been discovered include Great Britain and Ireland.