Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Overview

Instead of doing another case study for our last post, we thought it would be helpful and informative to provide consclusive statements regarding each of our topics.

Cause of Death

We’ve discussed several bodies this semester, each of which – with the exception of the final case study on the Windover Skeletons – showed signs of violence before death. The question has always been whether or not these bodies were murdered and thrown into the bog or whether they were the result of sacrifice and careful preparation for burial in the bog. But as we’ve seen throughout the blog most scholars are agreed that most bog bodies are the result of sacrifice: for instance, practices of universal cremation during certain portions of the Iron Age led rise to the commonly assumed notion that those persons sacrificed were then prepared for a burial in the bog. Some of the most compelling evidence comes from the Tollund Man’s noose and the pinched nipples of both Old Croghan and Clonycavan Man, as well as the thong around Lindow Man’s neck that may have functioned as a tourniquet in ritual blood-letting before a sacrifice.

Preservation

The conservation of these bodies is extremely important for several reasons. First, it is almost certain that continuing advancements in analytical procedures will shed new light on the lives of these ancient individuals year after year. We must ensure that the bodies are still around for future generations of archaeologists. They may employ methods that we have not imagined yet or do not have the means to perform. Besides the inherent scientific reasons for adequate conservation, the cultural significance renders these bodies national treasures. As physical evidence of human heritage and history they are invaluable. The preservation and continuation of archaeology itself is also reliant on the conservation of the bodies. To ensure funding and support for future endeavors, the interest of the public is crucial. The innate wonder and accessibility of these lifelike finds creates a valuable bridge between archaeologists and the general public. I remember seeing pictures of Tollund man when I was young. I was awed then and I am awed now that I had glimpsed the visage of someone who had lived almost 2500 years ago. (As a personal aside: the gentle expression of Tollund man also helped recuperate my six year old self’s impression of archaeologists after a traumatic experience involving the haphazard transport of an Egyptian mummy in the Denver Museum of Nature and Science). The rare and spectacular type of preservation that makes bog bodies unique allows us to empathize with ancient humans in ways that might never otherwise be possible. This deeply human connection deserves to be protected.

Culture

Unfortunately there is little archaeological evidence to reconstruct life during the European Iron Age.  Bog bodies are some of the only remnants available to construct an image of the societies from which they came.  However, we must take into account that bog bodies represent a minority class in Iron Age society and were most often of an elite status according to the evidence we have.  Archaeologists cannot completely identify the status of these individuals, but believe that they may have “come from the upper echelons of society; were high ranking captives, social outcasts and criminals, shamans and priests or even victims bred for the sole purpose of sacrifice.”  (Pearson, 17)  It is apparent that these were in some way socially sanctioned sacrifices or executions.  I have looked at evidence this semester including the body, hair, composition of soft tissues, and artifacts which leads to these conclusions.

Gundestrup Cauldron

One portion of evidence which I have yet to address, is the discovery of artifacts in bogs not associated with any kind of body.  The peat bods preserve not only the bodies but many exquisite and intricate artifacts made of wood, bronze, and leather.  These artifacts include coins, spearheads, axes, horns, and even entire ships.  Two of the most interesting finds have been  the Gundestrup Cauldron pictured on the right, and the Trundholm sun chariot on the left.

Trundholm Sun Chariot

The cauldron dates from the first century B.C. and was discovered in a Danish bog.  It was made of pure silver and depicts celtic dieties, a dragon, and other fantastical animals.  Some of the imagery though suggests that its origin might be from southern Europe.  The Trundholm Sun Chariot was likewise found in Denmark and is as old as 1200 B.C.  The two foot statures depicts a horse pulling a bronze sun across the sky.  Both of these artifacts depict the wealth and importance of spiritual practices surrounding bog depositition.

(Pearson, Mike Parker. “Lindow Man and the Danish Connection: Further Light on the Mystery of the Bogman.” Anthropology Today. 15-18. Print.)

Ethics

The ethical issues that have been looked at over the semester can be narrowed down to a few topics: treatment of the bodies, interpretation of the bodies, and use of images of the bodies.   We have seen that different groups have different opinions about the bodies, both who the people where when they were alive and how they died.  We have also seen that in the present the bodies are treated with different measures of reverence.  European countries are keenly aware of the significance of the bodies and go to great lengths to show respect towards the people that they once were.  The United States and Canada are nowhere near as cautious with their handling and interpretation of the European bodies, and some interpretations of the Windover Skeletons have been used to try to refute claims that Native Americans have to their lands and heritage.  Though, on the whole, the Windover Skeletons have been treated with respect by Americans, likely because the United States has a claim to them.  On the whole, there are some ethical problems related to bog bodies, but it rests on the shoulders of modern civilization and not on the bodies who are used for purposes they were never meant for.

Windover Skeletons

Windover Site

The Windover Skeletons are a group of bodies found in 1982 in Titusville, Florida. These skeletons are believed to be roughly 9000 years old – older than most European bog bodies discovered to date – and the site contains no fewer than 168 burials.

Cause of Death

Unlike the other bog bodies we’ve covered in this blog, very few of the Windover skeletons met violent deaths. In fact, the location where they were found by all accounts appears to be not just a dumping site but an actual cemetery, where people of the time took their dead to be buried. Many of the skeletons, through scientific study, were found to have lived to ages upwards of 70 (a ripe old age at the time) and most, though displaying signs of hard labor throughout life, died of natural causes such as disease.

(All information taken from NOVA: America’s Bog People. See bibliography.)

Culture

Stake used to prevent body flotation

The skeletal remains exhibited some very characteristic, but also some intriguing burial practices.  The skeletons were most often found on their left sides in a fetal position with their heads west of their pelvises.  This is likely in reference to the setting sun.  Many bodies were discovered with traces of fabric around them, along with thousands of artifacts.  These include bone tools, a wooden pestle and mortar, and a bottle gourd. Uniquely, many were staked down with wooden poles through these fabric shrouds. This was likely done to keep the bodies from floating to the surface of the body of water.  It is identified that the bodies were buried within 48 hours of the individuals death because most skeletons had intact brain masses.  In the climate of Florida, brain matter tends to liquify quickly in the humidity.  Most burials took place in the late summer and fall.  We know this because of the analysis of organic matter which was being grown at this time.

Bone Tools

By examining the physical remains of these ancient people we can begin to imagine their day to day existence.  Because the groups of burial appears to be a cemetery, we can conclud that they were a sedentary hunter-gatherer community.  Analysis of organic remains reveal a rich surrounding eco-stystem which provided a diverse array of food sources which allowed them to remain in place.  Paleobiologists identified over 30 species of edible and/or medicinal plants along with berries and wild fruits.  The archaeologists were able to recover remains of stomach contents, one of which contained elderberry, nightshade, and holly.  All of the evidence leads to a very stable life for the early Floridian inhabitants.  They were able to sustain themselves on their surrounding food sources and had sophisticated textiles and tools.

Richardson, Joseph. “Windover Bog People Archaeological Research Project.” North Bevard Business Director. N.p., 1997. Web. 12 Apr 2012.

Preservation

This incredible find of New World bog bodies differs from the previous finds we have covered in several key areas. First the sheer multitude of bodies found at this site, in a cemetery like setting, is nothing like the situations in which most Old World bog bodies are found. But as far as the state of preservation is concerned, these ancient bodies are not as strikingly preserved as say the Lindow or Tollund man, but being found in a peat bog they are still in amazing condition. To the surprise of many archaeologists, the brain tissue of the skeletons was shown to be surprisingly intact. 91 of the approximately 168 skulls found at the site contained some amount of preserved brain tissue. The incredible significance of this find was taken very seriously and as much brain tissue as possible was frozen in nitrogen and stored at -70 degrees C. The brain tissue has yielded significant amounts of genetic information about who these people might have been. The wet conditions of the bog made any artifacts retrieved very susceptible to damage. Many different approaches were taken to ensure preservation of materials, but documentation of finds was made a priority incase degradation made them inaccessible in the future. About half of the skeletons were juvenile, suggesting a low life expectancy. Many of the skeletons of those who survived to live longer displayed signs of osteoporosis and arthritis. One 15 year old male suffered from spina bifida, which is interesting to note, because his physical state would have meant that the community would have needed to care for him. This notion of a caring society is also backed up by the skeleton of a woman who was severely crippled several years before she died. Much has been learned from these bodies and much more remains to be discovered. Their excellent state of preservation will carry their legacy long into the future.

Richardson, Joseph. “Windover Bog People Archaeological Research Project.” North Bevard Business Director. N.p., 1997. Web. 12 Apr 2012.

Ethics 

The Windover bog peoples are an interesting group because the DNA that has been tested from them show that they are not distant relatives of the Native American groups (Tyson).  Unfortunately, this DNA has been used (specifically on forums) to try to refute any claim that the Native Americans have to land and preservation of their culture.  (This section is based on my own research into the DNA of the Windover skeletons, which brought up more of the above mentioned forum posts than any scholarly articles, unfortunately.  Remember not to believe everything that you see on the internet!)

On a brighter note, though, the man who worked with the construction company that originally discovered the skeletons was a very helpful man.  He was the first to notify archaeologists and police that they had uncovered bodies at the site, and without his keen eyes and quick decisions, it is possible that the site could have been destroyed.  In fact, the backhoe operator was not the only one who made the site possible to be explored, as the developer who was in charge ultimately gave archaeologists the go-ahead to work on the site.  (Information for this part of the post came from both the Nielson and Tyson articles.)

In 2003, twenty years since the last bog body was found at Lindow Moss in Cheshire, two bog bodies were found in Ireland within the space of three months. Both bodies date from the Iron Age: the Clonycavan man is believed to have lived sometime during 392 and 201 B.C. while the Old Croghan Man between 362 and 175 B.C.

[Please be aware that this post contains images of parts of the Clonycavan and Old Croghan Men. In addition, a video has been provided that shows the bodies in detail.]

Cause of Death

Eamonn Kelly of Irish Antiquities at the National Museum of Ireland believes quite strongly that both of these bodies are the result of sacrifice – that these men were failed kings who were killed for that failure (Lobell and Patel, 2010). Evidence for this lies in their gruesome and specialized deaths. Both bodies show evidence of their nipples having been pinched and cut, which aids Kelly’s theory that they were failed kings (see culture section).

Clonycavan man suffered at least two blows from a heavy object (probably an ax) that shattered his skull and the bridge of his nose.

Old Croghan Man suffered even more injuries. Evidence of a wound in his arm suggests he tried to defend himself as he was struck in the chest and neck then decapitated and dismembered. Hazel branches were threaded through holes in his upper arms.

(All information taken from “Clonycavan and Old Croghan Man,” Lobell and Patel. See bibliography.)

Preservation

Clonycavan Man and Old Croghan Man are not as intact as previous cases that we have covered but what is left of their bodies is very well preserved. Old Croghan Man consists only of a torso with arms while Clonycavan Man has retained his head, parts of his arms, torso, and abdomen. One of the most striking characteristics of Clonycavan Man is his hair. It bore a gel-like residue, made from “vegetable plant oil,” which was used to form a Mohawk-like hairstyle (Owen 2012). The implications of this will be discussed in the culture section. Further analysis of his hair revealed that he had been living on a diet high in vegetables, possibly indicating that he died in summer (BBC). Clonycavan Man’s head was also intact enough to allow for a digital reconstruction of his possible appearance in life.

Old Croghan Man’s hands were particularly preserved revealing his fingerprints and well-manicured nails (Owen 2012). Analysis of these fingernails indicated that he had been eating a meat heavy diet (Owen 2012) (BBC). This could be because of his high social status but it could also mean that he died in a colder time of year (BBC). Another disparity between the two men is their height. Measurements of Old Croghan man’s arms suggests that he was at least 6’6” tall, while Clonycavan man could not have been much taller than 5’2” (Owen 2012). The remarkable state of preservation that these two bodies were found in, despite not being entirely intact, greatly contributed to the understanding and connection with early Irish culture and people.

(See bibliography)

Culture

The society of celtic Ireland between 400-200 B.C was based on a hierarchical system as evidenced by the bog sacrifices of Clonycavan Man and Old Croghan Man. An examination of these bodies revealed extremely well manicured nails, fingertips, and hands indicative of each body’s elite status and lack of hard labor during their lifetime.  Their hands were so pristine that fingerprints were able to be recorded from the 2,000 year old bodies.

In addition, Clonycavan man styled his hair into a mohawk with hair gel consisting of vegetable plant oil mixed with resin from pine trees found in Spain and southwest France.  This is evidence of a complex network of trade routes linking the far reaches of Europe during the Iron age.  The ability of Clonycavan man to acquire such exotic ingredients as well as his ability to devote his time and energy into his physical traits supports his elite status in the community.  His hairstyle would convey a sense of grandeur and literally increase his stature (Clonycavan was only 5’2″) in comparison with an average member of society.

Found on Old Croghan was a prestigous leather amulet decorated with rare metal alloys including bronze.  It was decorated with celtic designs representing the sun, a symbol closely associated with Irish kingship during the time.  In addition to a sign of wealth and power, the amulet likely functioned with some kind of spiritual signifigance.

Clonycavan and Old Croghan Man’s elite status is concurrent with the other bog bodies we have discussed including Tollund and Lindow Man.  However, why were these bodies found mutilated in so many different ways in addition to their sacrifice?  An analysis of distribution of the bodies, including 40 other Irish bog bodies, brings a new development to the mystery of celtic sacrifice in Ireland.  All the bodies coincide with borders of ancient Irish kingdoms so they are possibly royal sacrifices of very special status individuals.  These may have been high ranking hostages or possibly a rejected ruler, as mentioned in the Cause of Death section. Kelly believes that these sacrifices were part of an ancient tradition which consisted of a symbolic marriage between kings and a fertility goddess; in addition, he believes that tradition at the time included sucking the nipples of the king – which would account for the fact that both of these bodies had cut nipples.  According to Kelly, each injury suffered represented a different aspect of the goddess including fertility, sovereignty, and war.  His last meal contained symbols of fertility, cereals and buttermilk.  This is in contrast to his diet which regurally included meat, a luxury in the quantities apparent in his body.  This is of course only one interpretation and only future discoveries can provide more clues into celtic ritual.

Ethics

The Old Croghan man and the Clonycavan Man are two interesting bog body finds in Ireland, being discovered within a few months of each other.  These two bodies seem to have been treated better than other bodies in Ireland (there was a body discovered in the early 1800’s which was dried out and shrunk and was deformed due to the process).  The curators of the National Museum in Ireland were keen to treat these bodies properly, the keep of antiquities said “We must clearly remember that we are dealing with human remains. We must treat these remains with dignity” (Ahlstrom 2011).  In the same article in which he is quoted above there was another striking comment.  Apparently the last two bog bodies found in Ireland underwent rather extensive (and expensive) analysis and conservation.  This is not at all surprising; however, what is surprising is the mention that part of the funding for this analysis and conservation came from an outside company.  The company gave the museum the money because they wanted to tape a documentary about the processes that the bodies would undergo in the preservation and analysis.  It seems to me that the company who put forward the money was less interested in the actual science that was being done and more interested in getting a thrilling television segment out of such a fantastic historical and scientific find.

(All information taken from the Anlstrom article on Irishtimes.com.)

The Tollund Man

The Tollund Man was found in 1950 on Denmark’s Jutland Peninsula. It is believed that the body dates from the 4th century BC during the early Iron Age.

Due to the sensitive nature of displaying pictures of bodies, we have decided not to post a picture of the Tollund Man on the site. However, those who are curious may visit the Silkeborg Museum’s website.

Cause of Death

The Tollund Man presents one of the clearest cases of cause of death. He was found with a rope around his neck, which had left marks in the skin on the sides of his neck and under the chin, while these marks were not found on the back his neck where the knot would have been at the time of the hanging. It had been cut and carefully coiled. New examination of the body also indicates that his tongue was distended, which is a tell-tale sign of hanging. The question then remains as to whether this was an execution or a sacrifice. One source suggests that burial customs at that time in Denmark was almost exclusively cremation, while those sacrificed were buried in the bogs. If this was truly the case, then the Tollund Man was sacrificed and given a careful burial (Silkeborg Museum 2004).

(All information taken from Silkeborg Museum’s webpage; see bibliography.)

Preservation

The Tollund Man is famous for his lifelike appearance and relaxed facial expression. With softly closed eyes he appears as though he is just taking a bimillennial nap. He was found, like many bog bodies, by peat cutters. When the bog workers discovered Tollund man, they thought that they had “stumbled upon a recent murder” (Glob 18). Tollund Man’s incredible state of preservation allowed archaeologists to observe several interesting characteristics about him. He was naked except for a small hide hat, belt, and leather rope around his neck. He had a neatly shaven head and face. Upon his discovery he was quickly moved to a museum in Copenhagen, incased in almost a ton of peat (Glob 22). On closer observation of Tollund Man’s head it was noted that he might possibly have the most well preserved human head ever to be discovered from “antiquity” (Glob 31).  The condition of his digestive system allowed researchers to establish that his last meal consisted of a mixture of domestic and foraged grains. To protect Tollund Man’s legacy careful attempts were made to conserve him. Sadly researchers initially did not attempt to conserve the body, and only the head was give extensive preservative treatment. After being treated with numerous chemicals including formalin, alcohol, and acetic acid, the head was immersed in paraffin wax. The process took over a year and upon completion the head was displayed in a museum near the bog where Tollund Man was found.

Information from:

Glob, P.V. The Bog People: Iron-Age Man Preserved. 3rd. Ithaca, New York: Cornell University Press, 1975. Print.

Culture

The Silkeborg Museum which investigated the remains of Tollund man place his relative age around 40 years old and height at 5ft 3in.  Aging bog bodies is commonly achieved through analysis of the teeth through X-rays.  In the case of Tollund Man, we can identify that the body was over 20 years old because of the presence of wisdom teeth.  The body and bone lengths can simply be measured in order to identify height.  When doing so, it must also be considered that the body has naturally shrunk inside the bog.  All things considered, Tollund man would have still been relatively short even for the time period in which he lived.

Much can also be determined about Tollund’s life from  the inside of his body as well.  One of the most detailed studies of Tollund man is of the contents of his stomach and intestines.  First, it was apparent that the man had lived for 12-24 hours after his last meal because the contents had passed out of the stomach into the intestine.  Through microscopic identification, a specialist was able to determine over 40 different types of seeds had been ingested, including barley, linseed, and chamomile.  With identification of the seeds, we can determine that the seeds were only available during the spring, and so Tollund man died during that time.  It is also apparent that some of the seeds were not readily available, and so possibly the meal was prepared for the special occasion of the sacrifice.  You will notice that Tollund Man’s meal did not consist of any meat.  This is concurrent with the season in which he died but is not to say that Iron Age peoples did not eat meat.

Tollund man is one of the rare bog bodies discovered which is also accompanied by a wealth of artifacts.  On his body was discovered a cap, belt, and the noose itself.  The belt around his waist was also made of leather.  It is not clear whether the body was originally deposited with other clothing which has decayed, or if the body was naked.  The pointed cap was made of sheepskin and wool, and was fastened under his chin with a leather strap.  This cap concealed short hair, and the corpse still retained stubble on his chin suggesting that he had not shaved on the day of his death.  The hair of most bodies is found to be a orange/red due to the reaction of the bog water over time, so it is impossible to identify the original color of any bog body.

Ethics

This weeks ethical issue is not particularly related to the Tollund Man, but it is interesting.  The display of bog bodies in museums tends to be more fascinating rather than controversial but it seems that Europe and parts of the rest of the world cannot agree about the use of images of the bog people in merchandise.  (I am specifying the use by Museums and not third party groups.)  The International Council of Museums Code of Ethics for Museums states:

4.3 Exhibition of Sensitive Materials
Human remains and materials of sacred significance must be displayed in a manner consistent with professional standards and, where known, taking into account the interests and beliefs of members of the community, ethnic or religious groups from whom the objects originated. They must be presented with great tact and respect for the feelings of human dignity held by all peoples.”  (Taken from the ICOM website, link in bibliography.)

Museums in Europe, with very few exceptions, do not use pictures/drawings of the actual bog peoples in their merchandise, but museums in Canada and the United States have had large amounts of merchandise of this type.  Wijnand van der Sanden believes that this is in violation of the above statement.  He finds it particularly interesting that museums in the US, who are known for attempting to be very sensitive about First Nation remains, are rather brazen with the remains of other (i.e. non-american) remains.  He believes that going to the extent of making extensive amounts of merchandise with images of the bog people turn them from the remains of a human into a logo, and that the US and Canada should look to European examples of bog body and mummy exhibits.

(All information for this post taken from the van der Sanden article on Archaeology.com and the ICOM website.)

Video on the Tollund Man:

Please be advised that this video shows images of the Tollund Man.

The famous Irish poet and Nobel Prize winner Seamus Heaney wrote an extract of his famous poem “The Tollund Man” in the guest book for Silkeborg Museum in 1973.

I
Some day I will go to Aarhus
To see his peat-brown head,
The mild pods of his eye-lids,
His pointed skin cap.

In the flat country near by
Where they dug him out,
His last gruel of winter seeds
Caked in his stomach,

Naked except for
The cap, noose and girdle,
I will stand a long time.
Bridegroom to the goddess,

She tightened her torc on him
And opened her fen,
Those dark juices working
Him to a saint’s kept body,

Trove of the turfcutters’
Honeycombed workings.
Now his stained face
Reposes at Aarhus.

II

I could risk blasphemy,
Consecrate the cauldron bog
Our holy ground and pray
Him to make germinate

The scattered, ambushed
Flesh of labourers,
Stockinged corpses
Laid out in the farmyards,

Tell-tale skin and teeth
Flecking the sleepers
Of four young brothers, trailed
For miles along the lines.

III

Something of his sad freedom
As he rode the tumbril
Should come to me, driving,
Saying the names

Tollund, Grauballe, Nebelgard,

Watching the pointing hands
Of country people,
Not knowing their tongue.

Out here in Jutland
In the old man-killing parishes
I will feel lost,
Unhappy and at home.

Seamus Heaney gave a talk at Silkeborg Museum in 1996, where he described his childhood memories of the bog:

“When I was a child and an adolescent I lived among peat-diggers and I also worked in the peat bog myself. I loved the structure the peat bank revealed after the spade had worked its way through the surface of the peat. I loved the mystery and silence of the place when the work was done at the end of the day and I would stand there alone while the larks became quiet and the lapwings started calling, while a snipe would suddenly take off and disappear…”

About his poem – Bogland – Seamus Heaney told the following: “The title of the poem refers to the bogs I knew while I was growing up and the stories I had heard about the things that could be preserved in the bog such as supplies of butter that were kept there, and about the things that were even more astonishing to a child, such as the skeleton of an Irish elk which our neighbours had dug out”.

The Lindow Man

The Lindow Man was discovered near Manchester UK in 1984, only a year after a similar body of a women was found at the same bog site called Lindow Marsh.  The body was dubbed “Pete Marsh” by journalist during the media sensation following his monumental discovery.   It is the best preserved bog body which has been discovered in Britain and rivals as one of the best archaeological discoveries of the decade.   Now commonly know as Lindow Man, the body is a permanent installation at the British Museum in London.

Through radiocarbon dating, Lindow Man was found to be almost 2,000 years old and dates from the Roman Era in Britain.

Because we do not wish to offend anyone, we will not be posting pictures of the Lindow Man in this post.  We will, however, provide links for those who are interested.  Here is an image of the Lindow Man on display in England.

Cause of Death 

Despite the fact that bog bodies are well known for their unique physical characteristics and often notable signs of traumatic injuries, the Lindow Man is perhaps one of the more gruesome tales that these bodies have to tell. There were three blows to the head, which were powerful enough to break the bone and drive fragments inward. A tied leather thong was found around his neck, which was tied tight enough to break skin. Together with the two broken vertebrae, it is a possibility that the Lindow Man was hung or garroted. However, the presence of a relatively small slit in his throat could indicate that the leather was actually a tourniquet to control flow of blood, perhaps during some ritual. Brothwell points out that, after the blows to the head knocked the man unconscious, “blood [may have] been spilled…for symbolic reasons” (Brothwell 1986:29). In addition to these other injuries, it is possible that there is a sword wound in the chest, though investigators debate whether it happened post- or pre-death.

It is easy to state that any one of these injuries could have caused the death of the Lindow Man. Though it is often difficult to tell the exact meaning behind each wound (and for some, whether or not they were inflicted before or after death), there is no doubt that he died of unnatural causes, possibility for the sake of a ritual.

(All information taken from Brothwell; see bibliography.)

Culture and Society

After investigation of Lindow Man’s body, archaeologist have been able to determine that he was a healthy male in his mid-20′s at the time of death.  His height was around 5″8′ and he would have weighed around 130 Ibs.  Other characteristics of the body include a trimmed beard, mustache, and sideburns, as well as healthy teeth and manicured nails.  His body also shows little evidence of hard labour so he was also most likely a high status member of society.  Examination of his stomach revealed a diet consisting mainly of cereals.  The conclusion of the Study suggest that the people of Lindow Marsh had a much less varied diet than that of other European inhabitants at the time.  There have not been any discoveries of Iron Age settlements in the immediate vicinity of the bog, so the question remains, Where did Lindow Man come from and what type of society did he inhabit?  It is possible that after deposition of the body, the peat marsh expanded to encompass the area in which settlement would have occurred.

There is little artifactual evidence of ritual and religious activity in Iron Age britain, although most evidence we do have has been obtained through peat bogs.  Whether Lindow man’s death was murder or ritualistic is still to be determined, although his injuries appear to be non-accidental.  Most Iron age burials though consisted of crouched inhumation in this region of Britain.  The fact that there are relatively few bog bodies discovered does not support the theory of ritual sacrifice.  If ritual sacrifice was regularly practiced, why are there so few bodies in context?  A thin chord of twisted sinew knotted around his neck has also been an object of debate.  One theory is of ritual garroting, or strangulation, although there does not appear to be substantial post-mortem evidence to support this.  There is simply not conclusive evidence to definitively say that this bog body was part of a celtic religious ceremony, but may have in fact been an Iron Age case of mugging due to Lindow’s high social status.

Preservation

Lindow man was found by peat moss harvesters in an incredibly well preserved state. Radio carbon dated to somewhere between 2 BCE and 119 CE, the Lindow man has retained his skin, hair, and many internal organs for around two millennia. His now bleached hair and beard were discovered to originally be brown and neatly groomed and his finger nails manicured; possibly indicating high social standing. The contents of his stomach were recognizable and his last meal was shown to consist solely of bread. Lindow man was taken to the British Museum after discovery where preliminary observation and analysis were performed. Initially the body and the moss that it was incased in were kept in climate controlled conditions while archaeologists performed excavation and investigation. The body was treated with distilled water and kept moist while not being worked on. It was decided that a more efficient and long term solution was needed to ensure preservation. After intensive dialogue and testing, freeze-drying was decided to be the best choice for the long term preservation of this immensely important archaeological discovery

(Information from British Museum’s website; see bibliography)

Ethics

The Lindow Man was the center of a controversy in 2008 and 2009 when it was put on display in Manchester England.  The controversy was centered around different interpretations of the Lindow Man’s death, and a panel of eight was put together to talk about the different theories and their personal beliefs on the cause of death.  Though the display in 08-09 was not the first time that Lindow Man had been on display, the last 25 years had seen changes in the way that the world view the bodies of the dead.  The Manchester Museum, where the new display was held, was trying to peak public interest and debate about the treatment of the dead and was loaned the Lindow Man for a year.  And though there were some who were confused or disturbed by this, a large portion of the public believed that the Museum had done an admirable job (Sitch 2009).  Another controversy that surrounded the display of the Lindow Man in Manchester centered around an offering box that was placed with the body.  And though there were many who did leave offerings for the dead man, the fact that a box was placed there was criticized because of conflicting religious beliefs for the Lindow Man and those who were visiting him (Sitch 2009).

 

Raiders of the Lost Bogs

Hello!  Welcome to our blog on Bog Bodies!  We are writing and maintaining this blog as a class project for our Archaeology of Death course.  This is our introductory post, so the four of us – each tackling a separate aspect of study - will give a brief overview of what we will be writing about over the semester.  We have chosen a number of bog bodies that are exceptionally interesting and four topics within the study of bog bodies to investigate.  If the information that we are researching is not readily available, then we will probably substitute another topic that is more relevant for the particular body.

What are Bog Bodies, you ask.

Bog bodies are the bodies that have been naturally preserved in peat bogs, and many of them date from around the beginning of the Iron Age (~1000 BCE) to well into the Middle Ages (the youngest dating from around 1000 CE).  The skin and organs, as well as many ‘grave goods’ are preserved by the conditions in the bog.  The bodies are discovered when companies or smaller groups of people harvest peat for use as fuel.  The first recorded bog body was discovered in Germany in the mid-17th century, though the first well-documented case of a bog body discovery was not until 1781 in Ireland (Glob 103).  Since this later discovery, bog bodies have been a source of curiosity for those who live where peat bogs are more commonly found, primarily North-Western Europe.  Bog bodies have been found in Denmark, Sweden, Germany, the UK, Ireland, the Netherlands and there is one case of a large number of bodies being found in a peat bog in Florida.

Cause of Death:

One of the things that makes bog bodies such an intriguing and rich area of study is piecing together the clues to determine the cause of death. While, generally speaking, the actual cause is quite obvious – such as a severe blow to the head or cut throat – it is the underlying implications of these deaths that presents the challenge. Since many of the bodies appear to be people who were of high class (or at the very least, led a life of relative leisure), could they have been sacrificed? Or perhaps they were an invalid and killed to preserve the health of the society (Pearson 1999)? Looking closely at these options, in this section of the blog I will attempt to devise some answers from evidence taken from several well-known bog bodies, and tentatively draw conclusions from contemporary research.

Preservation:

One of the most unique and important qualities of the bog people is their incredible state of preservation. Several factors including temperature, anaerobic environment, and most importantly the acidity of peat, all contribute to their, in come cases, almost life-like appearance. A genus of moss known as sphagnum is the primary culprit for the acidity. As new layers of moss grow over older layers, the older layers compress and decay and become known as peat, which is very acidic and non-conducive to the growth of microbes. Each body is found in a different state of preservation and I will analyze the factors that contributed to its physical characteristics. Despite surviving hundreds to thousands of years in such a great state of preservation, unearthing these bodies can direly risk their condition. Because they are frequently discovered by peat harvesting operations, which often use large disruptive equipment and machinery, the bodies can be damaged before even being discovered. In many cases bodies that have been discovered have also since been lost. I will also analyze the steps being taken today to make sure that these bodies are protected.

Remnants of the Bog:

One of the greatest identifying factors of bog bodies are the incredibly preserved hair, nails, and physical features which are still intact after thousands of years.  These remains provided powerful tools for the identification of age, lifestyle, and even social position that the individual may have held during his or her lifetime.  They also encompass some of the fascination which has surrounded bog bodies for hundreds of years.  Their expressive and sometimes serene facial features or fascinating hairstyles bring alive the mystery surrounding these individual’s lives and deaths.  They appear so life-like they seem a part of our present time.  Along with the bodies, other representations of material culture are sometimes deposited and preserved.  These may include linen and leather clothing, metal jewelry and weapons, as well as the implements of their execution. These artifacts can not only tell us about the technology and time frame of the individual’s society, but can also give us a window into the ritual rites surrounding the deposition of the body.  Through this type of material culture we can learn both about the individual as well as the culture group of that individual.

Ethics:

And though these bodies are of immense use to archaeology for the preserved body and items, there are ethics issues surrounding the bodies.  For this first post I turn to Britain, where one of the main ethical issues with bog bodies is how they should be treated.  One of the main questions is whether or not a body should be moved from the bog in which it is found.  In Britain the law states that the body should remain where it was found, unless archaeologists could prove that the value of the information that would be discovered outweighed the disturbance of the body (Giles 79).  Another issue of ethics within Britain is the treatment of “pagan” bodies versus “christian” bodies, assuming that the bog bodies were not practicing Christianity.  Pagan religious groups in Britain at the present believe that bodies are treated as archaeological artifacts rather than as the sacred remains of a human body, and do not approve of the experimenting and public displaying of the bodies (Giles 79).  These are just a few of the ethical issues that surround the discovery and study of bog people that I will be researching throughout the semester.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.