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Thread: ‘Bog Bodies’ Shed Light on Iron Age life

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    ‘Bog Bodies’ Shed Light on Iron Age life

    Saturday, 7 January 2006

    Iron Age 'bog bodies' unveiled

    Archaeologists have unveiled two Iron Age "bog bodies" which were found in the Republic of Ireland. The bodies, which are both male and have been dated to more than 2,000 years old, probably belong to the victims of a ritual sacrifice.

    In common with other bog bodies, they show signs of having been tortured before their deaths. Details of the finds are outlined in a BBC Timewatch documentary to be screened on 20 January. The first body dropped off a peat cutting machine in February 2003 in Clonycavan, near Dublin. The forearms, hands and lower abdomen are missing, believed to have been hacked off by the machine.

    The second was found in May the same year in Croghan, just 25 miles (40km) from Clonycavan. Old Croghan Man, as it has become known, was missing a head and lower limbs. It was discovered by workmen clearing a drainage ditch through a peat bog.

    Tanned skin

    Although the police were initially called in, an inspection by the state pathologist confirmed that this was an archaeological case. Both bodies were subsequently taken to the National Museum of Ireland in Dublin. A team of experts from the UK and Ireland has been examining the bodies to learn how they lived and died.

    Radiocarbon dating, for example, would show that both had died at similar times - around 2,300 years ago. One of the experts is Don Brothwell, the York University archaeologist who led the scientific investigation of Lindow Man, the bog body found in Cheshire in 1984.

    Hundreds of bodies have been recovered from peat wetlands across Northern Europe. The earliest accounts date back to the 18th Century. The unique chemistry of peat bogs essentially mummifies bodies.

    Summer death

    The peat-building sphagnum moss embeds remains in cold, acid and oxygen-free conditions that immobilise bacteria. "The way peat wetlands preserve bodies has been described as a process of 'slow-cooking' which tans them dark brown," Timewatch producer John Hayes-Fisher told the BBC News website.

    Clonycavan man was a young male no more than 5ft 2in tall (1.6m). Beneath his hair, which retains its unusual "raised" style, was a massive wound caused by heavy cutting object that smashed open his skull. Chemical analysis of the hair showed that Clonycavan man's diet was rich in vegetables in the months leading up to his death, suggesting he died in summer.

    It also revealed that he had been using a type of Iron Age hair gel; a vegetable plant oil mixed with a resin that had probably come from south-western France or Spain.

    Dismembered body

    Old Croghan man was also young - probably in his early to mid 20s - but much taller than his counterpart from 25 miles away. Scientists worked out from the length of his arms that he would have stood around 6ft 6in tall (2.0m). He had been horrifically tortured before death. His nipples had been cut and he had been stabbed in the ribs. A cut on his arm suggested he had tried to defend himself during the attack that ended his life.

    The young man was later beheaded and dismembered. Hazel ropes were passed through his arms before he was buried in the bog. Food remains in his stomach show that Old Croghan man had eaten milk and cereals before he died. But chemical analysis of his nails showed that he had more meat in his diet than Clonycavan man.

    This suggests that he died in a colder season than Clonycavan man, when vegetables were more scarce. It may also explain why his remains are better preserved.

    Hopeful offering

    The researchers used digital technology to reconstruct the distorted face of Clonycavan man. From his studies on these bog bodies and others, Ned Kelly, keeper of Irish antiquities at the National Museum of Ireland, has developed a new theory which explains why so many remains are buried on important political or royal boundaries.

    "My belief is that these burials are offerings to the gods of fertility by kings to ensure a successful reign," Mr Kelly told the BBC's Timewatch programme. "Bodies are placed in the borders immediately surrounding royal land or on tribal boundaries to ensure a good yield of corn and milk throughout the reign of the king."

    A! Fredome is a noble thing
    Fredome mays man to haiff liking.
    Fredome all solace to man giffis,
    He levys at es that frely levys.
    A noble hart may haiff nane es
    Na ellys nocht that may him ples
    Gyff fredome failyhe, for fre liking
    Is yharnyt our all other thing.
    Na he that ay has levyt fre
    May nocht knaw weill the propyrte
    The angyr na the wrechyt dome
    That is couplyt to foule thyrldome,
    Bot gyff he had assayit it.
    Than all perquer he suld it wyt,
    And suld think fredome mar to prys
    Than all the gold in warld that is.
    Thus contrar thingis evermar
    Discoveryngis off the tother ar,

    Scots is our mither tung; an gin we dinna hain it,
    thare naebody gaun tae hain it for us.

    Scots is our mother tongue; and if we do not preserve it,
    nobody will preserve it for us.

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    ‘Bog bodies’ shed light on Iron Age life

    Ancient Irish had time for trade, a fancy ’do and fingernail polishing
    By Kevin Smith

    Updated: 8:42 p.m. MT Aug 1, 2006

    DUBLIN, Ireland - Life in the Iron Age may have been nasty, brutish and short, but people still found time to style their hair and polish their fingernails — and that was just the men.

    These are the findings of scientists who have been examining the latest preserved prehistoric bodies to emerge from Ireland’s peat bogs, the first to be found in Europe for 20 years.

    One of the bodies, churned up by a peat-cutting machine at Clonycavan near Dublin in 2003, had raised Mohawk-style hair, held in place with gel imported from abroad.

    The other, unearthed three months later and 25 miles (40 kilometers) away in Oldcroghan by workers digging a ditch, had perfectly manicured fingernails.

    “I think the message I’m getting is that although they were living in a different time, a different culture, eating different things, living in a different way, people are people — they’re the same in their thinking,” said Rolly Read, head of conservation at the National Museum of Ireland in Dublin.

    Read is one of a team of experts from Britain and Ireland who carried out an 18-month examination of the 2,300-year-old corpses and whose findings form the basis of “Kingship & Sacrifice,” a major new exhibition at the museum.

    Iron Age life

    While the last two centuries have seen hundreds of bog bodies recovered from northern Europe’s wetlands — where they were preserved by the unique chemical composition of the peat — many were not examined in detail because techniques to further preserve them had not been perfected.

    Read said the latest finds had yielded precious insights into Iron Age life.
    For example, the hair product used by Clonycavan Man was a gel made of plant oil and pine resin imported from southwestern France or Spain, showing that trade between Ireland and southern Europe was taking place almost two and a half millennia ago.

    “We’ve been able to apply techniques that weren’t available back in 1984, so it’s a chance to actually look at aspects of Iron Age people that haven’t been explored before,” Read said.

    Why the bogs?

    Archaeologists have always puzzled over why the bodies ended up in peat bogs and why so many of them show signs of violent death, with much debate about whether they were executed for crimes or ritually slain as human sacrifices.

    Both Clonycavan Man and Oldcroghan Man — who were in their 20s when they died — met grisly ends, the latter in particular bearing the scars of horrific torture, including having his nipples cut almost through.

    Like several other bog bodies, Oldcroghan Man had been beheaded. Other examples, such as Denmark’s famous Tollund Man, discovered in 1950, still had the rope used to strangle them around their necks.

    Manicured fingernails and evidence of good diet — not to mention Clonycavan Man’s taste for imported cosmetics — seem to indicate that many of those who ended up in the bogs were from the upper classes.

    Appeasing the gods?

    Eamonn Kelly, keeper of Irish antiquities at the National Museum of Ireland, has developed a new theory about the bodies based on his discovery that nearly all of the Irish examples were placed in the borders immediately surrounding royal land or on tribal boundaries.

    “These people may have been hostages or deposed kings or candidates for kingship who have been sacrificed to ensure a successful reign for a new king, and this was done as part of a kingship ritual and as a fertility offering to the gods,” he told Reuters.

    “The king was held personally responsible for the success of the crops and so on — if he couldn’t guarantee the fertility of the land, he risked being deposed,” he added.

    Another theory, prompted by the writings of Roman historian Tacitus from around the same era, is that the perpetrators of “shameful crimes” were put into the bog in order to trap their souls in a watery limbo where the body did not rot.

    The "Kingship & Sacrifice" exhibition includes Iron Age artifacts such as weapons, feasting utensils, boundary markings and kingly regalia — all of which are often tied in with bog burials in a number of locations, according to Kelly.

    The two most recent bodies — tanned to a mahogany sheen by acids in the bog water — have now been freeze-dried for long-term preservation and have found their final resting place under glass in Ireland’s national museum.


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