Bog Bodies

Tollund Man lived in the 4th century BCE, and is one of the best studied examples of a bog body.

Peat bogs have long been a source of fuel for people in many countries, although the use of peat has declined. Peat bogs are often raised bogs, originating in waterlogged small basins with poor drainage. Sphagnum moss gradually accumulates, forming a dome fed by rain. In parts of northern Europe, peat bogs have been an important source of fuel for thousands of years. They are characteristic of areas where water drainage is poor.

Bogs are highly acidic with little oxygen present, so organic matter decomposes very slowly. This applies to human bodies found in the bogs—usually found by people cutting peat for home fuel use. The bodies have been naturally mummified, and some of those found have been in such a good state of preservation that recent murders were suspected. Dozens of human bodies have been found in bogs, most dating to 500 BCE and 100 CE. They are sometimes found with their clothing remarkably well preserved.

  Why bodies in bogs? We’re not sure, but religious sacrifice or perhaps execution are possibilities. The bodies usually show signs of trauma, sometimes of several potentially lethal harms that scholars have labeled it “overkilling.” 

The best known bog body is that of Tollund Man, discovered in 1950 in a bog in Denmark. Tollund man had been killed 2,300 years before he was found. He may have been a human sacrifice, or an executed criminal. 

Other things are found in the bogs too: weapons, cooking vessels, all thought to be somehow dedicated to the gods. The state of preservation is usually good, allowing detailed analysis.

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