Bog bodies are naturally preserved corpses found in Sphagnum bogs in Europe. The low temperatures, lack of oxygen and very high acidity combine to preserve their skin and internal organs rather as tanning does. Bones were often lost because the acid dissolved them. There are a number of famous bog bodies; we look at 10 of them here.
10. The Yde Girl
Yde Girl, an iron age bog body excavated 1897 in Stijfveen near Yde, Netherlands. Now on display in Drents Museum Assen.
The Yde Girl was found in Yde, Netherlands in 1897. She had died at approximately age 16 between 54 BCE and 128 CE. Her body was dressed in a woolen cape and had a woolen band (made using a technique known as ‘sprang’) wrapped around her neck, which suggests either execution or sacrifice. She also had scoliosis – a crookedness of the spine – which might lean the hypothesis more towards sacrifice, as many disabled individuals have been found in bogs.
Richard Neave, of Manchester University, did a CT scan to date the Yde Girl and also did an incredible reconstruction of her head (pictured here).
9. The Huldremose Woman
The Hudremose Woman was found in 1879, near Jutland, Denmark, and dating shows she lived between 160 BCE and 340 CE. She was elderly for her time, over 40 years old, and researchers have not found a cause of death. She was discovered wearing a wool skirt and two skin capes.
8. The Kayhausen Boy
Boy from Kayhausen
Found in Saxony Germany, this young boy was approximately seven years old when he died. His arms and feet were bound with cloth and a cape (the cape is in the photo), and he had been stabbed many times in the neck. Analysis showed an infected hip socket, meaning he would have needed help to walk. As suggested when looking at the Yde Girl, it is believed the disabled were sacrificed, perhaps because gods believed them to be “unfavored”.
7. The Weerdinge Men
When first found in 1904, this discovery was thought to be a man and a woman, but further investigation proved this to be untrue. The two men were found naked in bogs near Drenthe in the Netherlands. The more complete man’s wound spilled out his intestines, but no cause of death for the second man has been found. There is some suggestion he would have been killed in order for others to “read the entrails” and divine the future.
6. The Haraldskær Woman
This bog body was found in Jutland, Denmark, and was originally thought to be Norwegian Queen Gunnhild, whom Danish king Harald Bluetooth had ordered to be drowned in a bog. By 1977 it was determined that she did not have any royal lineage; however, her body had been ordered to be preserved when it was first thought to be royal and it is in an excellent state of preservation. The Haraldskær Woman died about 5BCE.
In 2000 her body was re-examined, and forensics showed stomach contents of blackberries and unhusked millet. Her neck had a faint groove as if someone had applied a rope for torture or strangulation. Cremation was the popular way of dealing with remains at the time of her death, and as she had been carefully placed, the examiners determined she was a victim of ritual sacrifice.
5. The Tollund Man
The Tollund Man was so perfectly preserved in Denmark’s Jutland bog that at first his head and face were mistaken for a murder victim and police were called. Finally, baffled, the officials called in an archaeology professor, who said the victim was over 2,000 years old. When he was found, he wore a pointed skin cap fastened under his chin with a hide thong and a smooth hide belt. There was also a garrote (made to strangle someone) of hide drawn around his neck. Because the rest of his body was not as well preserved, they let it skeletonize and reconstructed it, with the original head.
Image: Grönneger 1
In one interesting twist, the Tollund Man’s feet and the right thumb were kept in formalin, and in 1976 the police force did a fingerprint analysis, making his thumbprint the oldest such print on record.
Image: Peter Lindberg
4. The Bockston Man
The Bockston Man
The Bockston bog man was found in Varburg, Sweden in 1936. There were many questions surrounding him, but a forensic odontologist put his age at between 25 and 35. He is one of the best preserved bog men of all, with even his brain in good condition as well as his clothes and organs. He had an 8cm x 5cm injury when found, on the right side of his skull; also, two huge poles had gone through both his heart and his back. Legend has it that the Bockston Man had been a soldier who had been killed and haunted the area, so finally locals put two poles through him to stop the haunting.
Image: Mike Peel
3. The Lindow Man
The Lindow Man was found in a peat bog at Lindow Moss, Cheshire, England. He was a healthy male in his 20s, apart from the very severe injuries he had suffered: he had been garroted, hit on his head so hard that fragments of his skull ended up in his brain, and his throat had been cut. His last meal comprised of some sort of cereal and some charred bread. This was one of the biggest finds in England, so well preserved it compared to the Tollund Man in Europe, and 10 million viewers watched a BBC documentary on him in 1985. He has been kept preserved due to freeze drying. A reconstruction shows he had a neatly trimmed beard and was believed to be of the higher classes.
2. The Grauballe Man
The Grauballe Man was another of the Jutland bog bodies; so many have been found there that it is possible it was a place of ritual sacrifice. He was an adult male whose throat had been slit from ear to ear and is one of the most incredibly well preserved bog bodies ever. He is dated to the 3rd century BCE, and while not employed in hard labor, had suffered periods of starvation or poor health as a child and also had a spinal deformity.
The Grauballe Man was the first complete bog body to be preserved. The conservator decided to tan it to leather then stuff it with oak bark, and that is how it has been displayed ever since.
1. The Windeby 1 Man
Windeby 1 bones
The evidence from the Windeby 1 body, discovered in 1952, suggests he had been murdered either as a sacrifice or as a punishment for a crime. Part of the evidence for this is that he was found underneath logs and branches used to hold the body down. As one of the better preserved bog bodies in the world, it is on display in Schleswig, Germany.
The evidence of these bog bodies shows that the people of the era ritualized sacrifice and also used the bogs as a place to lay the “unclean” to rest. The red hair in almost all of them is due to the tannins in the peat coloring it over time.
Windeby 1 man upper body
As a result of the the detailed preservation of their organs and the bodies themselves, the bog bodies are fantastic as examples of the food and clothing lifestyles of those ancient eras.
Note: BCE and CE correspond to BC and AD, meaning Before Common Era and Common Era, which is being used for dating more frequently, as so many cultures are not Christian and the BC/AD has no meaning for them. T