A British archaeologist argues that the miraculously preserved bodies were left in the water together offerings come the gods.

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Sometime roughly 60 A.D., a man was led into a marsh external Cheshire, England to be killed. He was in his mid-twenties, stood about 5’ 7’’ tall, and had a trimmed beard, mustache, and also brown hair. Except for an armband made out of fox fur, he to be naked. It’s likely that he to be accompanied, and restrained, by 2 or an ext individuals.

The details that his death make for grisly reading.

First, he received a punch from a blunt object to the height of his head, probably while he to be seated, which broken his skull. Then a cord was thrown around his neck. If he was being throttled, his throat was cut. Linked with the pressure from the noose, this would have caused a geyser of blood come erupt indigenous the wound. Finally, he obtained a sharp kick come the small of his back, propelling that face-first into the waters of the bog, where, almost two thousand years later, that was discovered by employees digging for peat in the Lindow Moss.

We know these details around the fate of the Lindow Man, together he has pertained to be known, because of the almost-miraculous preservative features of the bog where he was buried. Because the 18th century, numerous bodies favor his have been pulled out of the marshes of north Europe. Their ages span thousands of years, from the stone Age come the second World War. Most, though, come from a relatively narrow band of time, from around 700 B.C. Come 200 A.D. Numerous show signs of terrible trauma, consisting of torture, mutilation, and also dismemberment. Together, they space the coldest of cold cases, and also the factors for their death constitute one of the enduring mysteries of european archaeology.

Explanations for why the bog victims were eliminated have consisted of accident, punishment for crimes, execution that prisoners, and robberies gone wrong. In her new book, Bog body Uncovered, Miranda Aldhouse-Green, a brother archaeologist and expert on Celtic antiquity, argues that nobody of these causes make feeling of all the easily accessible evidence. Pass together results from forensic examination of the bodies with the testimony of timeless authors and material gathered by ‘dry land’ archaeologists, she argues that the likeliest explanation is also among the many disturbing: that they were victims of human being sacrifice, and also were left in the waters that the bog together an providing to the gods.

Unlike Egyptian mummies, the bog body owe your state to an accident of chemistry.

The an initial thing anyone remarks on when faced with among the bog body is their exceptional state of preservation. The Tollund Man, perhaps the most well known bog body, has been called the “perfect corpse,” chiefly due to the fact that of the exquisite problem of his face and head. Discovered in 1950 by peat cutters in a Danish bog, he was buried naked, conserve for a skin cap and also leather belt. He had actually been hung, and the noose that was offered was still approximately his neck. Provided the violence he appeared to have actually suffered prior to death, it constantly comes together a surprised that his face is the photo of calm. The Danish archaeologist P.V. Glob, present on the job after he to be unearthed, described him as having actually “a tenderness expression—the eyes easy closed, the lips easy pursed, together if in silent prayer.”

The Tollund Man’s conservation is awe-inspiring, however it no deliberate. Unequal Egyptian mummies, the bog body owe their state come an accident the chemistry. The bogs in which lock were hidden contain tiny oxygen, which helps to inhibit bacterial growth. The most essential ingredient for the bog bodies’ survive though originates from a plant referred to as sphagnum. When sphagnum dies, that releases polysaccharides which block bacterial metabolisms. This helps save organic issue like skin, wood, fur, and textiles native succumbing to decay.

Bogs cure bodies in a process akin come tanning, but while they space wonderful at keeping skin, they eat far at bones, leave the bodies’ skeletons shrunken and sometimes, completely absent. In ~ the exact same time, acids in bog water ruin DNA, making genetic studies impossible. Many bog bodies have actually been found in the procedure of excavating peat for use as fuel, and as a result, plenty of have been hacked personal by spades and also shovels, and an ext recently, by mechanically peat excavators. (The negative Grauballe Man also had his head stepped on, leaving it bad deformed). Contemporary forensic specialists have had actually to work hard to differentiate trauma inflicted top top the bodies in life native the damage done come them when they to be found.

There is a riches of forensic data preserved in the bog bodies’ soft tissue, and it deserve to tell united state a lot about who these people were.

On optimal of post-mortem trauma, the unusual conservation of the bog bodies have the right to pose an additional challenge to investigators. As soon as a human body was found in the Lindow Moss in 1983, police at first thought the belonged to a recently murdered woman. By coincidence, that was uncovered just a thousands feet indigenous the cottage of a guy who to be suspected in his wife’s disappearance. Faced with the body, that admitted to the crime. Just a couple of months later did that become noticeable that the human body was that of a two-thousand year old man.

But despite these mix-ups, over there is a wealth of forensic data preserved in the bog bodies’ soft tissue, and it deserve to tell united state a lot about who this individuals’ to be in life—their social status, medical history, and also even the food castle ate in their last hours. The Tollund man’s last enjoy the meal was a kind of gruel, described as ‘disgusting’ by a British excavator who taste a rebuilded version because that a routine on the BBC. The Grauballe guy ate a porridge made the end of 60 different species of plant, which contained enough ergot to placed him in a coma, or in ~ least, make him delirious. The Old Croghan Man, one aristocratic large from Ireland, lived largely on meat and also dairy, yet his last meal was buttermilk and cereal. The Lindow Man had actually an ‘upmarket’ enjoy the meal of griddle-toasted flatbread, with a small addition the mistletoe pollen.

Many of the bog victims suffered from malnutrition. Others show up to have been far better off. Part had finely manicured hands, or wore sophisticated hairstyles that suggested their rank together freedmen or warriors. One unusual variety of the bog bodies suffered from physical deformities. Few of these were fairly minor, prefer a cauliflower ear, or bent spines or diseased joints i m sorry would have made go difficult. Various other abnormalities were much more pronounced. A survey of bog body research turns increase a dwarf, a giant, and a guy with an extra set of thumbs. Aldhouse-Green thinks this could be significant, and that “visually distinct people” may have been deliberately targeted for your uniqueness, and possibly, spiritual power.

Bogs us seem to have actually been locations of unique reverence.

One point that the bog bodies do clear is the the mistreatment they suffered in death was as excessive as it was varied. The Haraldskaer mrs was killed with a garrote. The Yde Girl to be strangled with her own girdle. The Tollund guy was hung. The Kayhausen Boy, a teenager from northern Germany, to be hogtied prior to death. The Lindow, Grauballe and also Kayhausen body all had their throats cut. The Windeby girl was drowned, and also her eight was hacked off together well. The Borremose mrs was scalped, her confront crushed, and her ideal leg broken. The Old Croghan male was hit with a barrage of blows, most likely from an axe, enough to sever his head and cut his human body in half.

The violence inflicted ~ above the bodies ongoing after death. Several of the bodies had actually their arms pierced, and also willow branches were drawn through the wound. Others had actually wooden stakes pushed through your knees. Aldhouse-Green writes the these restraints may have been a method of taming the dead, pinning your ghosts come the spot whereby they died. Number of bodies also show indications of having actually undergone ritual humiliation. Many were buried naked, or wrapped only in a shroud. The Windeby Girl had actually the left next of her head shaved. The Yde Girl’s whole head to be shorn, and her hair left by she side. In addition to every little thing else the was done to him, the Old Croghan’s nipples were sliced. This might have had special significance: follow to tradition, in old Ireland, suck a king nipples was a method of reflecting him submission.

The intricate effort and preparation that went into the killing of the bog bodies suggests that these weren’t plain murders. Likewise, the placement in body the bogs suggests that they were not simple burials. Cremation was the most common form of internment in Iron age northern Europe, while greater status individuals were sometimes placed in oak caskets and buried with grave items for usage in the next world. The bog bodies had neither. However does that necessarily typical that they to be sacrificed?

Aldhouse-Green gift two main strands of proof to argue that it does. One come from classic antiquity. Number of Roman historians, consisting of Strabo, Tacitus, and also Julius Caesar, explained versions of person sacrifice being exercised by the individuals of northern Europe. Periodically it to be a way of telling the future, and at other times it was done as part of a cult associated with a details god or temple.

The other strand comes from archaeology of the british Isles, where there are many examples of bodies that seem to have actually been buried alive, human being remains offered as foundation deposits for houses, and burials in i m sorry attendants to be interred with their chiefs. Over there are also signs the bodies may, in certain places, have actually been pulled the end of the bogs and kept on display hundreds of year after their deaths. Bogs us seem to have been locations of distinct reverence. In Germany and also Denmark, weapons, wagons, food, pictures of gods, and even whole ships were deliberately left in your waters. These to be most most likely as ceremonial offerings, and as Aldhouse-Green points out, in societies where enslavement was common, a human being being might have to be worth much less than a valuable sword or cauldron.

Both strands of proof suffer from particular deficiencies. Aldhouse-Green emphasizes the the classical historians need to be treated with caution. Castle were, after all, creating as outsiders come the societies they to be describing, and also each lugged their very own agenda to bear ~ above the customizeds of the barbaric north. The archaeological record from north Europe is an in similar way problematic. Although it has multiple indicators of human and animal sacrifice, and material offerings made come the bogs, these finds give little indication—aside indigenous a couple of tantalizing hints—as to the exact nature the the beliefs that motivated the ceremonies. Ultimately, the ideal evidence for human sacrifice originates from the bog body themselves, and also the excessive, and plainly staged, violence provided to death them, together in the instance of the Lindow Man.

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Although we might never recognize for details what to be going with the mental of the killers, the bog bodies will certainly still retain their fascination. I visited the Tollund Man much more than 20 years ago top top a childhood trip to Denmark and I tho remember the lively shock of seeing his face. The ireland poet Seamus Heaney, who dedicated a bike of poems to the bog bodies, created of being moved just by their photographs. Describing the Grauballe Man, he asked, “Who will say ‘corpse’/to his lively cast?/Who will say ‘body’/to his opaque repose?” After countless years, the bog bodies are still v us, living a life they couldn’t possibly have imagined in death.