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.
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.
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.
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.
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.)
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.