Tollund Man: Found in 1950 near Tollund, Silkebjorg, Denmark. He is over 2000-years-old.
Source: Sven Rosborn [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
synonym: bog person
homme des tourbières
“..momies “naturelles”, découvertes dans les tourbières du nord de l’Europe.”
Although most living beings would like to choose their place of burial, many do not have that luxury. In fact, it would likely surprise most people to know the various places the dearly departed have called their final resting place. Human cadavers can be found in the strangest places, lying in wait to be discovered. Most eventually become one with nature, but a tenacious few, aided by their surroundings, still cling to their familiar form years, if not centuries, later.
Such is the case of the bog bodies. In the wetlands of northwestern Europe, sunk deep in a mire, lying on a bed of peat and moss, were hidden hundreds of human cadavers in various states of preservation. Hundreds, if not more, of these gruesome discoveries have been unearthed by peat cutters, starting as far back as the 17th century. The bodies themselves date back from even further. The oldest, called the Koelbjerg Woman, is said to have lived around 8,000 B.C.. Most, however, tend to date back to the Iron Age.
Although the Koelbjerg Woman and many others are merely skeletons, others are shockingly well preserved, their skin intact enough to identify tattoos and scars. The Tollund man, as shown at the top of this post, has visible stubble and was mistaken for a recent murder victim before it was discovered he was 2,400 years old. As mummification occurred from natural means, these mummies are of particular interest to the scientific community. Unlike some artificial mummies that undergo rituals that involve embalming or the removal of certain organs, bog bodies are relatively complete. These bodies give us a fascinating glimpse of what life must have been like at their time of death. Things such as their clothing and hairstyles, and the contents of their stomach are amazing capsules of a time long since passed.
Autopsy of these bodies is often very invasive and risks damaging what is seen as valuable archaeological artifacts. Recently, scientists have put greater emphasis on developing non-destructive methods for analyzing mummies, including radiography and CT scanning with advanced 3-dimensional visualization.
Fountain of eternal youth
The secret to these bodies’ miraculous conservation can be found in a substance called “peat,” which abounds in bogs. According to the International Peat Society, peat is “a heterogeneous mixture of decomposed plant material (humus) that has accumulated in a water-saturated environment and in the absence of oxygen.” The formation of layers of peat within a bog lends the water an acidic quality, which, along with the low oxygen level, creates the perfect environment to stall decomposition, a crucial step in creating a bog body. However, different bogs have different effects on the mummification process, and not all bogs have the conditions necessary to make a mummy.
Although the cause of death for most of the bog bodies is not determined, many theories abound on the subject. What is clear is that most of the bodies are thought to be sacrificial lambs of sort. The more preserved mummies tend to show signs of violent death; hanging, stabbing, and throat slitting seem to demonstrate a ghastly pattern. As the dead tended to be cremated in the Iron age, it was once thought that the bog bodies were mere criminals and commoners thought unworthy of cremation. However, developments have shown that the bog bodies often show signs of having been persons of status. Imported hair pomade, elaborate jewelry, costly ornaments, and dyed textiles from foreign lands decorate the remains and suggest that they were high-ranking individuals.
Some theories point to religious sacrifice as a means to appease pagan deities during bad harvests. The National Geographic article on the subject explains that, in places like Ireland, the king was symbolically married to the fertility goddess. Famine meant that the goddess’ favour for the king had run out. To regain it, a sacrifice had to be made. However, the goddess would not accept just anybody. The sacrificial lambs could range from lords, pretenders to the throne, or even the king himself. Some experts believe the bodies were people considered to be unique in their village. Danish bog bodies show signs of being special members of society, based on new development in technologies like strontium isotope tracing. They suggest that many of the Danish bodies were not native to the area they were buried in, which is why they weren’t cremated as custom.
Still, although bog bodies seem to be a portal to another time, the portal is still murky and we may never fully identify these people or discover why they were thrown in bogs.
Some famous bog bodies