bodies found in bogs -- 6/25/15

We are celebrating our tenth anniversary!  All month we will be sending encores that our subscribers picked as their favorites, starting with the top ten excerpts, followed by ten more favorites. Thanks for reading and enjoy! 

Ten More Favorites!

Today's encore selection -- from Lives in Ruins by Marilyn Johnson. There are three hundred and sixty-nine human "bog bodies" that have been excavated around the world. They are highly preserved remains found in peat bogs or the like, and some are thousands of years old:  

"In the National Museum of Ireland, ... behind the main room of the museum [is] a cache of human bodies, hundreds and sometimes thousands of years old, strangely preserved by the oxygen-deprived bog waters: Instead of the flesh decaying to leave skeletons, the bones of these bog bodies dissolved, leaving behind flesh, organs, and even hair -- natural mummies. ... [For example,] Clonycavan Man [is] a little skinny guy with a wispy goatee and a face shriveled to dark leather. His hair was piled atop his head like a prom queen's, pomaded with an ointment made from ingredients produced by a tree that grew only near the Mediterranean, more than a thousand miles away from where he lived and died. 

Clonycavan man

"Old Croghan Man, the big guy ... would have been over six feet tall when he walked the Earth more than two thousand years ago. His torso, stained dark brown, looked almost maroon in the dim light. His hands were so perfectly cured that scientists had been able to lift fingerprints. Eight of his ten nails had been recovered. He had been beheaded. Big holes had been cut through the fleshy part of his upper arms and threaded with 'withy,' a cord made of willow, so he could be anchored in the bog by his killers. Also, his nipples had been sliced off. (It seems there was a custom in Ireland at this time of showing obeisance to your king by sucking his nipples. No nipples, you could not be a king.) 

Old Croghan Man

"The archaeologists and curators speculated that Old Croghan and Clonycavan had been former kings or chiefs, or potential rulers who threatened those in power, or highborn sacrifices who had been taken to the edge of the kingdom and put to death with such vehemence it seemed ritualistic. ...

"Clonycavan and Old Croghan were discovered by chance in 2003, within months and about twenty-five miles of each other, when both were dredged up and damaged by peat-cutting machinery. ... Clonycavan and Old Croghan underwent postmortem torture to rival their mortem torture -- digital and laser imaging of every sort, infrared, ultraviolet, and regular X-ray analysis, 3-D facial reconstruction, pollen analysis, and gut, stomach, dental, and dermatological workups. Someone figured out what kind of wood was used to make Clonycavan's withy; another identified the species that had contributed the leather of Old Croghan's cuff. ...

Tollund Man

"While still an undergraduate, [Heather Gill-Frerking] had seen a picture of the head of Tollund Man, whose remains had been found in a bog in Denmark. A 2,000-year-old man (or perhaps a bit older), Tollund Man, like other bog bodies, appeared in a state the reverse of most corpses: although his skeleton was dissolving, his body tissue remained, stained brown but otherwise in remarkable condition. You could see the stubble on his chin and his puckered forehead. His expression was peaceful, in spite of the braided leather rope around his neck. ...

"Her Ph.D. thesis about the Iron Age bog bodies of Schleswig, Germany, resulted in the news that the body known as Windeby Girl (immortalized in a poem by Seamus Heaney) had in fact been a boy. ... [There is] a site in Florida where a pond with a peat bottom preserved numerous bodies -- no tissue or organs, but skeletons and, surprisingly, intact brains. 'There are only three hundred sixty-nine bog bodies. That's a very small pool of evidence,' she pointed out. Some are in private hands. 'You'd be amazed how many people want a mummy.' 

"I assumed there would be a lot of excavations in bogs, but Gill-Frerking disabused me of this. You'd have to drain the bogs to do a proper excavation -- too expensive and too difficult. 'These bog bodies are found by accident by the peat machines, which do a lot of damage,' she said. 'Bogs are wonderful places to bury bodies, or for accidents to happen. A sheep falls in, and a shepherd goes after it and falls in too -- it's not officially quicksand, but it acts like it.'"


Marilyn Johnson


Lives in Ruins: Archaeologists and the Seductive Lure of Human Rubble




Copyright 2014 Marilyn Johnson


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