There are many bog bodies found throughout Europe, dating to the Iron Age (1200 BC – 600 BC). Many of them are found in Denmark, Ireland, England, and the Netherlands. Often when the bodies are found it is discovered that they suffered a violent death, leading many to believe they were killed and thrown into the bogs, possibly as a form of sacrifice or punishment. Because of the low oxygen levels in these waters, the bodies are extremely well preserved, to the point of being able to distinguish some of their facial expressions.
The Tollund Man, discovered in Denmark in 1950, is probably one of the most famous of these bog bodies. He is so well preserved, if one were to look past his blackened skin and red hair (caused by being in the bog for so long), it would look like he is simply sleeping and about to wake up. His facial expression is calm, and the stubble on his face is still visible. He wears a cap on his head, made from sheepskin. He also wears a leather belt around his hips, and last of all, a braided rope around his neck. He was hanged.
It is unsure whether these people who were killed were criminals, prisoners, slaves, or people of high status. Although there are no written records from Denmark at this time, the Roman Empire was home to some who could write. When the romans would go to trade with the northern tribes, they would write about them. These people were described as wild, and there are accounts from Tacitus that these people would hang criminals from trees and throw them into dirty swamp water. However, if it was done as sacrifice, they surely wouldn’t have sacrificed a criminal. Sacrifices are supposed to be valued things, and people who were rich enough to be well travelled would have been considered valuable for sacrifice. Though there is no evidence Tollund man is of high or low social standing, there is evidence in other bodies found in bogs that they were of high standing. The Haraldskaer Woman, who is believed by some to be Gunhild, wife of King Harald Bluetooth, and the Woman from Huldremose were both discovered with chemical analysis to have been widely travelled women.
These people could have believed the bogs were a sort of “door” to their gods. The bogs would have been valuable to the people living in Denmark. They would have used materials from the bogs for heating, tools, and other necessities. These people would have felt grateful for this stuff, and as Pagan religions usually focus on nature, they would have wanted to pay back the gods as a sort of thanks. They sacrificed many objects and gifts into the bogs, not just living creatures including human beings. Some clothing has survived, like the clothing of the Woman from Huldremose, but some has disintegrated in the water. The Tollund man would likely have been buried in the bog with clothes on, as the belt around his hips indicates. Bodies have been found with fibers on them, a clue to them being buried with clothing on.
There is evidence in the body named Grauballe Man that this was not just a simple killing, but was part of a ritual. He was ended by having his throat slit, and he had eaten soup with hallucinogenic mushrooms in it before his death. Hallucinogenic materials would have been eaten in a ritual.
There seems to many different theories and/or reasons for these bodies ending up in the bogs. It could have been done as punishment for criminals, it could have been as sacrifice, and it could have been voluntary or involuntary. It seems it will forever remain a mystery.
There are plenty of examples of these bog bodies throughout Europe, and although they are a mystery to our modern minds, they are fascinating nonetheless. These bogs have not only preserved human bodies, but history as well, and we can learn from them. They were violently killed, for whatever reason, and thrown into the bogs. Perhaps it was for the gods, or perhaps it was for punishment. Either way, thanks to the amazing preservation, it offers us knowledge today on how the previous inhabiters of our home once lived.
“Why Did He Have to Die?” The Tollund Man – Death. The Tollund Man, n.d. Web. 10 Jan. 2017.
“The Tollund Man – A Face from Prehistoric Denmark.” The Tollund Man – A Face from Prehistoric Denmark. The Tollund Man, n.d. Web. 10 Jan. 2017.
“The Perfect Corpse.” PBS. PBS, Jan. 2006. Web. 10 Jan. 2017.
Dell’Amore, Christine. “Who Were the Ancient Bog Mummies? Surprising New Clues.” National Geographic. National Geographic Society, 18 July 2014. Web. 10 Jan. 2017.<http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2014/07/140718-bog-bodies-denmark-archaeology-science-iron-age/>
“Archaeology Magazine – Bodies of the Bogs – Haraldskaer Woman – Archaeology Magazine Archive.” Archaeology Magazine – Bodies of the Bogs – Haraldskaer Woman – Archaeology Magazine Archive. Archeology Magazine, n.d. Web. 10 Jan. 2017.<http://archive.archaeology.org/online/features/bog/gunhild.html >