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What are Bog Bodies?

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  • Written By: Michael Anissimov
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 01 December 2016
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Bog bodies are bodies, sometimes thousands of years old, that have been preserved from decay by the anoxic conditions of a peat bog and the humic acid in marsh water. These bodies are the most highly preserved window into people that lived in Iron Age Europe. The facial structures, skin, and internal organs of bog bodies are highly preserved, allowing close study, including what these people ate just before they died. Most of these bodies are from people that were killed violently, either as punishment for crimes or as a human sacrifice. The prevalence of human sacrifice in Iron Age Europe for successful crop yields and other reasons is well established.

The oldest bog body, Koelbjerg woman from Denmark, dates to roughly 8000 BC. This is so old that it predates the Bronze Age in Europe, instead being a rare artifact from Stone Age Europe. The most recent bodies date to the 16th century, including a woman from Ireland who was apparently buried in unhallowed ground (the bog) after a suicide. In some cases, the people were evidently killed violently, and feature multiple stab wounds. In one case, that of Tollund Man, one of the best preserved bog bodies there is, he was found buried with the rope around his neck that was used to kill him.

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Bog bodies are typically recovered when people are harvesting the peat from bogs for fuel. Shortly after the body is revealed, it begins decaying, so quick preservation after that point is essential. Some bodies have badly deteriorated after their discovery due to improper preservation. Bog bodies generally have brown or black hair and skin, caused by chemicals in the bog that dye them. Archaeologists are fortunate to find any of these bodies, as the precise conditions conducive to their formation is rare, and generally occurs only in bogs near salt water. Because of this, one of the best locations in the world to find bog bodies is in Jutland, Denmark, which is frequently swept by winds bearing salty moisture.

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fify
Post 6

@Lostnfound-- Absolutely. They can even open up the stomach and intestines and examine the types of foods that were eaten during that era. For example, it was discovered from bog bodies that porridge made of grain and seeds were a common meal in the Iron age.

SteamLouis
Post 5

@turquoise-- Yes, I have seen many images of the Tollund Man. I really is very interesting how he was naturally preserved so well.

Do you know that only the head of the Tollund Man was preserved? They discovered him in 1950 and could not preserve his body. The body that is seen in the museum is just a replica that was made later.

No one knows for sure that the Tollund Man was sacrificed but there are some signs pointing towards this. For example, the position he was found in, with his eyes and mouth closed shows that he was placed with care. If he was a criminal, people probably would not have bothered to do these things.

turquoise
Post 4

Has anyone seen images of the Tollund Man? It's unbelievable, it looks as though he died just recently. The flesh is still intact, including all of this facial features. Even his chin stubble can be seen.

I was so sad to find out that the Tollund Man was a sacrifice. I wonder how he was chosen to be the sacrifice and whether he was okay with this. I guess we'll never know.

Lostnfound
Post 3

@Grivusangel: I saw the National Geographic story. What fascinated me was everything scientists were able to learn about the bodies and the society where they came from. It really shed a lot of light on society then and changed what we thought we knew about it.

Grivusangel
Post 2

I have read news stories about Koelbjerg woman and the other bog bodies. National Geographic had a piece about them several years ago and I remember the photos of bodies that were well preserved were very poignant.

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