Bog Bodies: Preserved Corpses

04Sep09

300Px-Homme De TollundBog Bodies, or the Bog People, are extremely well preserved and ancient corpses that have been discovered all over northwestern Europe. Typically Bog Bodies are found when workers drain sphagnum bogs and extract the peat moss. No one knows for sure how many Bog People have been uncovered in the past. Today, documented discoveries of Bog Bodies number around 700.

Bog Bodies can be found in various states. Some are merely skeletons and can only reveal a limited amount of information to scientists. Others are partially preserved and may still hold some clues as to who they were or how they died. Finally, there are those that have been completely preserved with their clothes still intact and their facial expressions the very same as they had been when they were buried. The most intriguing thing about these intact Bog Bodies is what the reveal about the manner in which they died.

A large number of the Bog Bodies that have been unearthed did not die of natural causes. Some scientists believe that the Bog Bodies may have been the victims of ritual sacrifices. There are some Bog Bodies that leave no question as to whether or not they were murdered. Here are a few examples of them.

Notable Examples

Bog03BThe Hildremose Woman was found in Denmark. She is suspected to have died between 160 BC and 340 AD. Her body was mutilated so badly that one of her arms was completely cut off.

The body of a sixteen-year-old girl was found in Holland. She most likely died between 170 BC and 230 AD. Her body showed signs of strangulation. Indeed there was a length of rope still around her neck.

The Elling Woman was found in Denmark. She probably died between 160 BC and 340 AD. She was hanged and the noose that was used to kill her was still around her neck when she was discovered.

The Tollund Man is probably the most disturbing of all the Bog Bodies.His face is perfectly preserved and life like. He could almost be sleeping, were it not for the unnatural color of his face. He still wears a hat that was on his head at the time of death. He was between 30-40 years old when he died. He was hung, similarly to the Elling Woman. The noose remains as well.

How They Are Preserved

Bog FeatureThe Bog Bodies are able to be so well preserved because of where they are buried. Though it is important to note that they were not actually buried, they were placed in the bog water and covered with branches. The bogs in which these bodies were placed are near saltwater. The peat moss in these bogs collects the salt from the air and releases acid into the bog water. The water then permeates throughout the cells in the corpse.

Because of the acid, bacteria cannot survive in these bogs, so the bodies do not decompose as they normally would. If there is enough acid in the water the bones of the corpse will disintegrate, leaving only the skin and hair. Calverous bogs will do the opposite and leave only the skeleton. The process that preserves the bodies intact leaves the flesh of the corpse a dark leathery brown. It is believed that only bodies that are dumped in the bogs when the water is frigid, will be preserved.

Northwestern Europe

Bogman2The oldest of the Bog Bodies dates from around 8000 BC and the youngest from early mediaeval times. The clothing found on some of these bodies is preserved perfectly with them and can tell us a lot about the clothing of their time. Scarves, hats, belts, shoes, capes and skirts have been found on the Bog Bodies. Most of them are made of woven wool or leather. Scientists have also been able to analyze the contents of some of the Bog People’s stomachs. A lot of them seem to have eaten gruel shortly before their death. This leads some to believe that they were given a last meal before they were sacrificed. Other Bog Bodies appear to have been recipients of trepanning surgery.

Bog Bodies have been found in other places, but none are as well preserved as the mysterious Bog People of northwestern Europe. These bodies have given quite a bit of insight into the people of their various times, but still hold many secrets. We can get a good glimpse of the food they ate, the weapons they used and the clothing they wore, but the reason some of them were murdered is still a matter of debate. There are probably many more left undiscovered. Who knows what may be learned about them in the future?

Image Gallery

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Picture 4-21

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Picture 6-10

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Picture 7-8

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Picture 8-8

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Picture 9-7

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Picture 10-5

10. Graubelleman man

Grauballe-Man-2

Video Gallery

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36 Responses to “Bog Bodies: Preserved Corpses”

  1. 1 Johnny

    I feel bad for snickering because of the facial expression on some of the bodies. Most at number 9. 🙂

  2. 2 mom424

    Excellent article Jamie. The hi-res pictures are awesome. The Tollund man doesn’t look like he was fighting his death eh? He looks calm and peaceful.

    • 3 imcrystalclear

      mom424, I found an article that says the Tollund man, “He is thought to have been hanged or strangled by the rope around his neck, and he had eaten a drugged meal, a kind of vegetable and cereal porridge containing high levels of ergotamine, a strong hallucinogen”…source,http://mathildasanthropologyblog.wordpress.com/2008/08/21/ … which may explain why he looked so peaceful. Just a thought.

  3. 4 imcrystalclear

    Another facinating list. I have a question, what is …. “trepanning surgery”? I live in Washington State, USA and near the city of Seattle. They have a store on the waterfront near the ferry dock that is called the “Ye Old Creosity Shoppe”. Inside they have a mumified man found in the 1800’s (I think) It is amazing to look at. You can see the bullet hold that was obviously the reason for his death. It is really kind of cool to see that body up close. It is very intricate and interesting. Just thought I’d share.

    • Trepanning is when a hold is cut out of the skull to relieve pressure on the brain.

      • 6 imcrystalclear

        Thanks, Sendingsunshine.

  4. 7 Behind The Sun

    Jamie, you need a login link for WordPress on your main page here.

    Thank you for this. This is the first article I have read here, and it wont be the last. I will have to spend some time catching up. Between Listverse and this you will end up hogging all my online time.

  5. Great article Jamie!

    I actually live in Silkeborg, Denmark where the Tollund Man is exibited. So of course i’ve been to see him and it’s truly an eerie experience. As they say in the documentary: when you look at his face you kind of expect him to just open his eyes!

    I was however dissapointed to learn that only his head has been preserved. The rest of his body in the exibishion is a replica as the real body started to decay rapidly once out of the bog environment (if you look carefully at the end of the film where they are at the cat-scanner they only put the head in the scanner). The remains of his real body – which is now only bones – is kept at the Natural Museum in Copenhagen if i recall correctly.

    But still it is a remarkable and strong experience to se him lay there as if he were only asleep.

    OmmeLise

    • .. and by ‘Natural Museum’ i mean Museum of Natural History of course!

  6. 10 egernunge

    I’ll add a few things about the Grauballe Man (not “Graubelle” as it says above picture no. 10). He’s the most well-preserved bog body in the world, and the only one where the entire body has been preserved.

    In 2001 he went through extensive examinations in a hospital, including DNA tests, CT scans etc. This brought a lot of new knowledge about him – for instance, they could tell that he had been 34 years old when he was killed, and that he was healthy besides having rheumatoid arthritis and some problems with his teeth. They could see that he had had regular haircuts and that he had been shaved three weeks before his death.

    They could also tell that he had generally eaten meat during his life, even though his last meal was porridge. This is actually new knowledge about the Iron Age as a whole, because there usually is an assumption that people primarily lived off grains.

  7. 11 Zenayda

    This is really interesting – I wonder if there were any bodies found in the bogs of Ireland? I know that loot (chalices, jewels etc) was sometimes hidden in bogs here and I think bones were found in a bog recently somewhere (and at other times too) but I don’t think any of it would be as prolific as these bodies. I think I remember learning about the Tollund Man in history class at school. It’s amazing how preserved his head is.

  8. 12 cdalkire

    Great site Jamie and one of my favorite subjects! I have always been fascinated by the bog bodies. Great article.

  9. Very interesting article! I live in the same province as Drenthe, so I was aware of the bog bodies there. Have you ever heard of a church in Wieuwerd? A little Frisian village where there are natural mummies in the church crypt – unique in the world. I’ve been to see them. Very strange place. There were also some chickens (dead, of course) hanging from the ceiling, also naturally mummified. In this particular spot (and another in the cemetery), bodies do not decay.

    • 14 Zenayda

      Actually, in Dublin in Ireland there’s a church (St. Michin’s, I think?) where there are underground crypts where families used to bury their dead. Some years back, the walls collapsed and opened some of the crypts. Some of these are now open to the public. Due to the conditions in the crypts, the bodies mummified. I saw a Crusader (c.11th Century) who was too tall for the coffin so they had to break his legs and fold them under him. He’s in good condition and you can even see the outline of his heart underneath a thin layer of leathery skin. I touched his hand and it was simply like touching leather. There was a nun too – like the Crusader, such leathery skin but her nails were in perfect condition.

      The crypts that didn’t collapse haven’t been opened out of respect for the dead and because some of them are still in use by families. Kinda off topic but sendingsunshine’s topic reminded me of it.

      • 15 Firefly

        Zenayda: there’s a whole exhibition on bog bodies in the National Museum on Kildare Street in Dublin! They have four bog bodies in different states of preservation as well as some nicely preserved bog butter. If I’m not mistaken, the last picture in the text is Cloneycavan Man who had his face smashed in by a blow from an axe. The mummies in St. Michan’s are also pretty cool. I’ve been to see them about 3 or 4 times. As you can see I’m a massive archaeology nerd!!

  10. 16 erickarthik

    Already know this fact. But great set of examples and pics

  11. 17 ceerjaeb

    I learnt about these people in an English lesson once at school and I’m not sure what picture I saw, but it was so well preserved, you could see the tiny hairs on his face. I found it quite hard at first to comprehend that these were real people from so long ago and not just sculptures made out of leather. They are truly amazing pieces of our past. 🙂

  12. 18 sofkes

    I noticed most of them have red hair. Result of the bog, or is red hair extremely common in that area?

    • The red hair is due to the acidity in the bogs which strips out the non-red pigments from the hair. So it is entirely a consequence of the burial and nothing to do with the natural hair color 🙂

  13. 20 mom424

    imcrystalclear: Thanks for the info. And it certainly would explain it.

  14. 21 Astrid

    Are you sure your not one of my long lost brothers? I tend to love ‘bizarre” stuff.

  15. 22 Leonie

    There was a bog body found near where I live.
    My dad told that (I think) his grandfather (could’ve been his great grandfather…or maybe gran-uncle, I’m not 100% sure) a woman and a man were walking to the coast during the Famine to get a boat to America and on their way they passed through our land, so my dad thinks that maybe the man killed the woman because she was too much of a burden and then buried her in the bog as the body found in the bog had red her and is believed to have died around that time. There’s more to it that I can’t remember….. But it could be a coincidence…I like the story though 🙂

    Some really really old butter was also found in the same bog 😀

  16. 23 Sam

    hey jamie,
    greetings from south africa. just a note to say that i love your new site. think it’ll be up there with listverse when it comes to obsessive daily checking!

  17. 24 Cait

    Wow, that’s crazy. The creepiest thing is the hair! It’s just so hard to wrap your mind around the fact that those were once living, breathing human beings with families and names and homes. Really puts things into perspective.

  18. 25 krchuk

    Hmm, the red hair thing is very interesting. I was assuming they might have been hanged because they were ” ‘rangers” or “orange-people” … 😉

  19. 26 sagirl

    Wow, fascinating. Creepy and beautiful at the same time. These don’t look like corpses at all but rather works of art. Bronze sculptures.

  20. 27 appie

    Wow!awesome,..am a lil late for this article,.got a terrible vacation,.still I enjoyed,..this is really cool.,i’ve never heard of this before,.. honestly,..cool JFRATER,..

  21. 28 blurdurge

    Hehe. Image number eight reminds me of that Ren & Stimpy episode

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  27. good publish, i specifically get pleasure from studying about this topic, i hope you’ll be able to write more following this one

  28. 35 Pseurenousymn

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  29. 36 Desiree

    number 10 the Graubelleman man looks like he was a model and is just chillin from the world of the dead now


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