Mummies of the World: Bog Mummies

Ever since I was a child, I have always had a weird fascination with mummies. My favorite type of mummies are the bog mummies, for they are some of the best preserved mummies to exist in the world.

[image]Grauballe Man was found in 1952 in Nebelgård Mose, a small bog in Jutland, Denmark. (Grauballe Man photo by Robert Clark; bog photo courtesy Forhistorisk Museum, Højbjerg, Denmark)

Over the past centuries, remains of many hundreds of people—men, women, and children—have come to light during peat cutting activities in northwestern Europe, especially in Ireland, Great Britain, the Netherlands, northern Germany, and Denmark. These are the “bog bodies.” The individual bog bodies show a great degree of variation in their state of preservation, from skeletons, to well-preserved complete bodies, to isolated heads and limbs. They range in date from 8000 B.C. to the early medieval period. Most date from the centuries around the beginning of our era. We do not know exactly how many bog bodies have been found—many have disappeared since their discovery.

Many people find it hard to imagine that the dark brown bog bodies were once human beings of flesh and blood who lived in timber houses, brought up children, looked after their cattle, grew crops, made clothes, prepared meals, and manufactured tools. Facial reconstructions and remains of their hair and clothing give us an idea of how they looked during life.

No one knows how these people ended up in the bogs, but it seems that most of the bodies are not the remains of unlucky people who fell in after losing their way. According to classical authors, the Roman Iron Age people of northern Europe offered human sacrifices and executed people as punishment for crimes or perceived social imperfections. Many of those found in the bogs died violent deaths.

Wijnand van der Sanden, a government archaeologist for Drenthe Province, the Netherlands, is one of the foremost authorities on bog bodies. His book, Through Nature to Eternity: The Bog People of Northwest Europe, was published as an accompaniment to an exhibition he put together in 1996 at Silkeborg Museum, in Silkeborg, Denmark. The exhibition was the first time almost all of the bog bodies of northwestern Europe were gathered together in one place. Many of the following bog bodies were featured in the exhibition.

Many bog mummies display evidence of violent deaths and their bodies were cast into the bog afterwards to dispose of the body.

[image]  [image]

In 1904 two bodies were found in the southern part of the Bourtanger Moor in the Netherlands. Because one of them lays on the outstretched arm of the other, who is obviously male, it was long believed that the second body was that of a woman. We now know that this body is also male. Both men died between 160 B.C. and 220 A.D. The intestines of one body (right) protrude from a stab wound in his left chest. How the other man died is unknown. (Drents Museum of the Netherlands, Assen)


In 1879 the body of an adult woman was found in a bog near Ramten, Jutland in Denmark. The body, known as Huldremose Woman, was very well preserved. The woman met her violent end sometime between 160 B.C. and 340 A.D. Her arms and legs showed signs of repeated hacking, and the diggers who found her body noted that her right arm was detached from the rest of her body. That arm was evidently cut off before she was deposited in the peat.(National Museum of Denmark, Copenhagen)


The preserved body of a 16-year-old girl was dredged out of a small raised bog by peat cutters near the village of Yde, province of Drenthe, Holland, in 1897. The body was badly damaged by the peat dredgers’ tools. Yde Girl died a violent death sometime between 170 B.C. and A.D 230. The woolen band around her throat shows that she died from strangulation. A wound near her left clavicle was probably inflicted with a knife. With the girl were the remains of a large and rather worn woolen cloak. (Drents Museum of the Netherlands, Assen)


Elling Woman was found in 1938 in the Bjeldskovdal bog, west of Silkeborg, Denmark, only about 200 feet from where Tollund Man(see below) came to light 12 years later. Elling Woman was wrapped in one sheepskin cape, and another covered her legs and feet. She wore a woven belt around her waist. Elling Woman was hanged with a leather thong, which left a V-shaped furrow that is clearly visible in her neck. The leather belt that was used to hang her still survives. It has a sliding knot, making it suitable for execution purposes. This happened in the pre-Roman Iron Age, between 350 and 100 B.C. (Silkeborg Museum)


Tollund Man was discovered in Bjeldskovdal in 1950. He lived in the third or second century B.C., and is thought to have died at 30-40 years of age, choked to death with a leather garrotte. He was found lying on his side with arms bent and legs drawn up. Much of his flesh had decayed, but his head was intact including the stubble on his chin. Analysis of his intestines indicates he probably had eaten a gruel consisting predominantly of barley and seeds available in winter or early spring. (Drents Museum of the Netherlands, Assen; Carlos Muñoz-Yagüe)

© 1997 by the Archaeological Institute of America

© 1997 by the Archaeological Institute of America

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