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Friday, June 17th, 2005, 10:27 AM
Bodies of the Bogs
Man of Tollund

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 lightly colored 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 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 to celebrate military victories, and to recover from illness, and executed people as punishment for crimes or perceived social imperfections such as homosexuality. Many of those found in the bogs died violent deaths.

Red Franz

Girl of Windeby

In 1904 two naked 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.


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.

The mummified body of a 16-year-old girl was dredged out of a small raised bog 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.


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.


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 by hanging from a leather belt. He was found lying on his side with arms bent and legs drawn up, and he was naked except for a leather cap and belt. 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.


In 1859 the severed head of a female was found in Stidsholtmose in Jutland, Denmark. She was decapitated by a blow between the third and fourth vertebrae. Her hair was tied in a knot to which a woven band was fastened (this band no longer exists). The head has never been scientifically dated, and remains of the rest of the body were never found.


Two skeletons were found in 1949 in Sigersdal Mose, near Veksø on Sealand, Denmark. This skull was severely damaged during excavation. The cord that was used to kill this individual is visible around the neck. The sex of this 18-20-year-old person cannot be established with certainty. The individual died between 3650 and 3140 B.C.


The skeletal remains of Pormose Man were found by peat workers in 1946. He was 35-40 years old when he died around 3500 B.C. A bone arrow point was found projecting downward obliquely through his nasal cavity and the right half of his upper jaw. He was most likely killed by a second projectile which was found through his breastbone.


Grauballe Man came to light in 1852 in a small bog known as Nebelgård Mose, Jutland in Denmark. The naked body of this adult male had been placed in an old turf cutting. He died a violent death. His throat was cut, and he received severe blows on his head and left leg. Analysis of the contents of his intestines revealed that he consumed porridge which consisted largely of weed seeds. Because no remains of summer fruits were found, it is believed that he died in the winter. This must have happened between 170 B.C. and A.D. 80.


Kayhausen Boy, found in Lower Saxony, Germany, was tightly bound with garments. Strips of woolen fabric had been used to tie his arms behind his back, and a length of textile had been wound around his neck, passed between his legs and back up to his neck where the two ends had been tied. His feet were held together by a cape. He was also stabbed with a knife several times in his throat and left arm. This sinister act took place sometime in the last centuries B.C. during the Late Iron Age.


Worsley Man was garroted and then beheaded. His left temple had been hit with a blunt object, causing bone splinters to enter his brain. It is possible that he was already dead when decapitated. The head was found in 1958 in Great Britain. What the executioners did with the rest of the body is unknown.

In 1984 the body of a man was found in Lindow Moss, near Manchester. Well-built and in his twenties when he died, Lindow Man had rather small ears and a full head of dark hair, a short beard, mustache, and side burns. His death was extremely violent. He received blows on the head and in the back, was garroted with a thin cord, and had his throat cut. He was then dropped face downwards into a pool in the bog. This happened between A.D. 20 and 130.


Gallagh Man was found in 1821 by workmen in a bog near Castleblakeney, County Galway in Ireland. The body of the adult man was clothed in a deerskin cape which extended as far as the knees. The cape was said to have been tied at the neck with a band of willow rods. This might well have been a strangling device. A pointed wooden post was placed at each side of the body. Gallagh Man was dug up several times to be shown to visitors before being removed from the bog in 1829. Gallagh Man died between 470 and 120 B.C.


The naked body of an adult man--Neu Versen Man, also known as "Red Franz" for his striking red hair--was found in 1900 lying on his back in Bourtangermoor, a large raised bog on the border between Holland and Germany. He lived in the Roman Iron Age, dying between 220 and A.D 430. He broke his right clavicle at some stage in his life. The healed fracture remains visible because the two parts grew together at an abnormally sharp angle. It is not known how he met his end.


Windeby Girl is one of two bodies found in 1952 in the small Domlandsmoor near Windeby, Schleswig-Holstein, Germany. The girl was only 14 years old when she died. During her life she suffered several growth arrests. The cause of her death is unknown; no trace was found of violence. She was buried in a pit in the bog next to a large stone with a large birch branch in her right arm and a band tied over her eyes. Windeby Girl lived in the Roman Iron Age, the first centuries A.D.


Clothing and Hair Styles of the Bog People

Huldremose Woman, found in 1879, was accompanied by several pieces of clothing: two skin capes, and a woolen skirt, scarf, and hairband. Several years later a large woolen garment, or peplos (shown), was discovered near the place where the body was found.


The remains of Emmer-Erfscheidenveen Man were found in 1938 in the southern part of Drenthe in the Netherlands. The body was poorly preserved, but the remains of his woolen undergarment survive. The textile is executed in a plain tabby weave and is decorated with embroidery along the hem. The man lived in the second half of the Bronze Age, sometime between 1310 and 1050 B.C.


In 1944 Søgårds Mose in Denmark yielded a bog body of which only the arms and legs were preserved. The legs were covered with woolen wrappings, woven in 2/2 twill. Analysis of these wrappings has shown that the cords were originally blue, having been dyed with woad. The find has never been dated, but might date between 360 B.C. and A.D. 240, the date of a body found nearby.


A well-preserved body was found on Grewelthorphe Moor, North Yorkshire in 1850. Dressed in bright woolen garments and a pair of shoes, it was reburied in the churchyard of Kirkby Mazeard. Fortunately a policeman managed to secure some bits and pieces: a nailed sole of the left shoe, a woolen insole, and a textile fragment of irregular shape which may have been part of a stocking. The unusual shoe sole is typical for the Roman period.


The flattened body of Damendorf Man was discovered in 1900 in the Seemoor in Schleswig-Holstein, Germany. The bones almost completely dissolved in the bog. His body lay face downwards, his head resting on his outstretched left arm. Damendorf Man was accompanied by several garments and accessories. His fine pair of open work shoes were wrapped in a pair of breeches along with a leather belt and two leg wrappings. The leather belt is visible in the foreground. Damendorf Man died between A.D. 140 and 380.


In 1948 a head was found wrapped in a deerskin cape in the Köhlmoor near Osterby, Schleswig-Holstein in Germany. Most remarkable is the man's coiffure, known as a Swabian knot. The Roman author Tacitus gives a detailed description of this particular knot is his book Germania (A.D. 98). Osterby Man was decapitated between A.D. 70 and 220.

In 1780 a body was found in a small bog near Drumkeeragh, County Down in Ireland. The bones were reinterred nearby. Large pieces of clothing were taken off by peasants for reuse and much was damaged by animals and children. Thanks to the intervention of Lady Moira, on whose estate the find was made, several pieces of clothing and this 16.5-inch hair plait were saved. Lady Moira even published the discovery in an archaeological journal (1783). The find has never been dated, but might well be post-medieval.


Elling Woman was found in 1938 in Bjeldskovdal bog, 6 miles west of Silkeborg, Denmark. She lived in the pre-Roman Iron Age, between 350 and 100 B.C. Her elaborate plait has been replicated in this photograph.


Pathologies of the Bog Bodies

In 1942 two skeletons were found in a bog near Sorø on Sealand, Denmark. Both skulls show trepanations. This operation may have been performed to remove a blood clot or a less tangible thing like a spirit. Near the middle of one skull (left) is a hole with a diameter of 0.63 inches. Next to the trepanation is an elongated depression that may have been caused by a blow from an ax, which may have been the reason for the trepanation. The oblique sides of the trepanation show signs of healing. What is thought to be a second trepanation zone is visible further back; the hole in the middle of this zone measures only 0.314 inches. The two humeri of the second skeleton (right) show deformation. The bone of the left arm, with a twisted shaft and an irregular surface where the head is normally situated, is shorter than that of the right arm. This could have resulted from a childhood trauma. Both men were deposited in the bog around 3500 B.C.


The skeleton of Gadevang Man was discovered in 1940, during peat cutting in a bog on Sealand in Denmark. The man was aged 35 to 50 when he died, sometime between 480 and 60 B.C. In the frontal and left parietal bone of his skull is an almost circular opening, a trepanation 1.2 inches in diameter. Gadevang Man survived this operation, as is clearly shown by the healed edges and the bone regeneration (see the small tongue invading the opening).


Yde girl suffered from a mild scoliosis, abnormal curvature of the spine. The tissue of her foot near her right big toe was found to be swollen while the toe next to it appeared to be calloused. This suggests that the weight of the right half of her body rested disproportionally heavily on these two toes. The girl probably had a somewhat irregular gait, moving with her right foot twisted slightly inwards. A CAT scan (see photo) shows the girl's wedge-shaped vertebrae and her upper jaw with an unerupted wisdom tooth. She died a violent death sometime between 170 B.C. and A.D 230.


Stig NHF
Friday, June 17th, 2005, 10:53 AM
Very interesting! Thanks for posting!

Friday, June 17th, 2005, 11:02 AM
Does anyone know if it is still possible to extract meaningful genetic data from these bodies and, if so, have any comparative studies ever been conducted?

Friday, June 17th, 2005, 11:19 AM
Because of the wet and acid milieu of the moore, there can't be found any DNA in bog bodies.

Friday, June 17th, 2005, 11:40 AM
Still the best way to dispose of corpses you don't want the authorities to find...

Saturday, September 24th, 2005, 04:36 PM
Very detailed site: