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9 Noteworthy Bog Bodies (And What They Tell Us)

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Dredged out of the past and hinting at violent mysteries, bog bodies intrigue and haunt us. The how of their existence is known: bogs (cold-weather swamps) are excellent preservers of human bodies. The oxygen-free environment prevents decay, and the excessive tannins—naturally occurring chemicals used in tanning leather—preserve organic materials such as bodies, including the soft tissues and the contents of the digestive tract. (Bones, however, are a different matter.) But why were they there, and why did so many die violently?

  • Yde Girl

    Year found: 1897
    Age at death: about 16
    Dated to: between 170 BCE and 230 CE
    Where found: near the village of Yde, Drenthe, the Netherlands
    Manner of death: Strangulation. A woolen band remains around her throat. She was also stabbed with a knife near her left clavicle.
    Noteworthy: A CAT scan revealed that she suffered from scoliosis and probably had an irregular gait. She was buried in a large woolen cloak.

  • Weerdinge “Couple” or Weerdinge Men

    Year found: 1904
    Age at death: unknown
    Dated to: 160 BCE to 220 CE
    Where found: Bourtanger Moor in the Netherlands
    Manner of death: The larger figure (male), whose arm lies under the body of a slighter figure, was stabbed on the left side of his chest, and his intestines were protruding from the wound. Experts do not know how the other man died.
    Noteworthy: The seemingly tender position of the figures led observers to believe that the two were actually a male and female couple, nicknamed “Mr. and Mrs. Veenstra” (veen is Dutch for “peat”). Experts have since determined that the second, less well-preserved figure is also a man. What’s the back story here? Had they been punished for being gay?

  • Elling Woman

    Year found: 1938
    Age at death: about 25
    Dated to: about 280 BCE—early Iron Age
    Where found: Bjældskovdal bog, near Silkeborg, Denmark
    Manner of death: Hanging. A rope made of skin was found with the body, and there was “a clearly visible furrow around the neck.”
    Noteworthy: Her finely braided pigtail and her cloak, sewn with fine thread. A piece of cloak was wrapped around her feet. Although she was found 12 years earlier, her body was located some 200 feet away from the Tolland Man.

  • Koelbjerg Man

    Year found: 1941
    Age at death: 25 or younger
    Dated to: 8000 BCE
    Where found: near Odense, Denmark
    Manner of death: unknown, perhaps drowning
    Noteworthy: The oldest of the bog bodies. Only a skull and several bones were found, but no signs of violence were present. He was thought to be a woman until 2016, when DNA analysis proved otherwise.

  • Tollund Man

    Year found: 1950
    Age at death: about 30–40
    Dated to: about 280 BCE—early Iron Age
    Where found: Bjældskovdal bog (Denmark), relatively near the bog body known as Elling Woman
    Manner of death: hanging, but death caused by suffocation only, not by the combination of suffocation and broken neck
    Noteworthy: He has the most well-preserved body of all bog bodies to date. Only his arms and hands are like those of a skeleton. Either his clothing disintegrated or he was buried wearing only a pointed cap made of sheepskin and an oxhide belt.

  • Grauballe Man

    Year found: 1952
    Age at death: mid-30s
    Dated to: early Iron Age
    Where found: Nebel Mose bog, close to Silkeborg
    Manner of death: throat slit from ear to ear
    Noteworthy: His hands and feet are very well-preserved, as is his face. He remains one of the most examined bog bodies and is believed to have been sacrificed to a fertility goddess after a bad harvest. Seamus Heaney wrote a poem about him, “The Grauballe Man.”

  • Lindow Man

    Year found: 1984
    Age at death: about 25 years
    Dated to: radiocarbon dated to 2 BCE–119 CE
    Where found: Lindow Moss in northwest England
    Manner of death: struck twice on the head, garroted, and had his jugular vein severed
    Noteworthy: He was given the name “Pete Marsh” by the radiologist who X-rayed the body—after she suggested that an X-ray (which would reveal the presence of fillings in the teeth) could determine whether or not the body was modern. Lindow Man wore a fox-fur band on his left arm but was otherwise naked. He was also well groomed—hair and beard trimmed by shears and fingernails filed. (For further reading, see Lindow Man by Jody Joy.)

  • Old Croghan Man (partial figure)

    Year found: 2003
    Age at death: early 20s
    Dated to: 362–175 BCE
    Where found: County Offaly, Ireland
    Manner of death: strangulation, stabbing, and had holes cut in his arms through which wreaths of twisted hazel (withies) were threaded
    Noteworthy: Decapitated upper torso only. His fingernails seem to have been manicured. He wore a leather armband and a bronze amulet. One scholar noted that both Old Croghan Man and Clonycavan Man had had their nipples cut off and that “sucking a king’s nipples was a gesture of submission in ancient Ireland.” The brutal removal of their nipples, therefore, may be an indication that the two were either failed kings or failed candidates for kingship.

  • Clonycavan Man (partial figure)

    Year found: 2003
    Age at death: early 20s
    Dated to: 392–201 BCE
    Where found: Clonycavan, County Meath, Ireland
    Manner of death: He was strangled, stabbed, struck on the head three times and on the chest once with an axe, and disemboweled
    Noteworthy: The legs and lower arms are missing. It’s thought that he used “product” (made of plant oil and pine resin—ingredients that were imported from the Continent) on his hair. Both Clonycavan Man and Old Croghan Man are believed to have been “triple-killed” as a sacrifice to the goddess in her three forms—fertility, sovereignty, and war/death.