Tuesday, April 2, 2013

B is for Bog Bodies

is for...

Bog Bodies:

Naturally mummified bodies have been found in bogs throughout the world, but the ones of most interest tend to be those found around parts of Europe, including Denmark, Ireland and Germany.

The mystery is not their amazing preservation, which is explained by the environment of the bogs they were thrown into. Their flesh, hair and organs, as well as any leather that was on their person, are naturally tanned by a combination of cold water temperature, lack of oxygen in the water, and the acidic makeup of the water.

From Wikimedia Commons, user Gerard Janot, Tollund Man from nedersaksich

No, the mystery is in the reason for them being there in the first place. You see, many of these bodies were nude when thrown in, some stabbed or hanged, some tortured. None of them appear to have gone in willingly, to have died peacefully, or to have simply fallen in while lost in the wilds.

Another view of Tollund Man.
By Sven Rosborn (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
The main theories are that they are either criminals put to death and dumped in the bog, or these were human sacrifices. Quite a few found in Denmark appear to have been between 16 and 20 years old when put to death. At least one man was thrown in with the leather rope he'd been hanged with still attached around his throat (photo at right). Another man was pinned down with a large stick, probably to keep him under the water. Some had crosses formed on their chests with natural items, like sticks. Many of these bodies were thrown in during the Iron Age in Europe.

For the most part, written records do not address the practice. However, Tacitus did speak of putting criminals to death then throwing them into bogs to dispose of their bodies, which is where the theory concerning the bog bodies belonging to criminals comes from. The theory on religious human sacrifice comes from the fact that there seem to be offerings thrown into the bogs, as well. Various trinkets and jewelry made from valuable metals have been found throughout the bogs, too.

Which reason do you think was more likely, human sacrifice or punishment of criminals? 

May you find your Muse.

Letter B Monogram, courtesy of Ted Gehring, clker.com


  1. I'm not sure of the reason, but this stuff fascinates me. Loved the post—even though I may not get the picture of that man out of my mind for a while! ;)

  2. Sounds like mostly criminals with a few sacrifices thrown in for good measure.

  3. The details are amazing! I think I eve see wrinkles! and full lips!

  4. I think it is mostly criminals.
    It is impressive the level of conservation of this bodies!

  5. Fascinating. Is it possible it could be a combination of the two options? The young people being found seems to indicate a sacrifice, but the hanging and the man pinned down would seem to be punishment related.

    Good luck with the challenge.



  6. Fascinating, what a cool idea for A to Z month. Can't wait for "Q" and "Z"!

  7. This is so interesting. Now I'm totally going to do more research!
    Dani @ Entertaining Interests

  8. Interesting - but sad. I suspect they were mostly alleged criminals but I'll wager there were a fair number who didn't do anything.

  9. I see pain and acceptance in his face - which makes me none the wiser about whether he was a criminal or a sacrifice. Maybe he became a criminal as a sacrifice for his loved ones.

  10. I guess it is human sacrifice, or those number of methods to kill wouldn't be applied. Considering that human sacrifice had one simple procedure to do it, like burn or cut throat or something ghastly like that.

    Your posts are so informative. :)Looking forward to more.

    P.S : Yet to find my muse :-/

  11. Hi Shannon

    I remember you from last year's challenge. I can't believe the level of excitement I have been feeling since I clicked Publish on my first post this year.

    I love your theme as I am also a huge fan of history. Coincidentally, my first post was also about archaeology. :)

    Good luck with the rest of the challenge. I will visit again.


  12. Maybe a combination of sacrifice and a way to punish criminals?

    It's amazing how well-preserved the bodies are after all this time...that one man, the expression on his face...just wow

  13. Never heard of this...but makes me think of that horrific scene in Winter's Bone where they take the hands...enough said.
    I think it's probably a bit of all the reasons you named. Gory but fascinating subject.

    Tina @ Life is Good
    Co-host, April 2013 A-Z Challenge Blog
    @TinaLifeisGood, #atozchallenge

  14. From what I've read, archaeologists believe some were people the Iron Agers feared or hated (probably criminals) others they believe were sacrificed to appease the gods inhabiting the bogs.

    Creepy, right?

  15. Creepy...I guess that's one gruesome way to get rid of criminals. Good post, very interesting.

  16. I have to think it might have been both. I bet no one realized at the time that the bodies would be preserved.

  17. I saw one of these in the British Museum in London years ago. Fascinating. And sad.

  18. O M G, Shannon, I was not expecting this kinda macabre post lol.

    I LOVE IT!

    Injected some emotion into my day in a safe, fun, enjoyable and intriguing way.

    I didn't know there were many in Denmark, but I guess the tourist bureau isn't really focusing on that part of Denmark's history lol.

    For some reason my gut tells me it's race related or something...

  19. I've heard of bog preservation of bodies but had never seen pics before. Amazing! This is creepy as can be.

  20. Were the bogs considered holy places in primitive religions? Be interesting to know. The man's face has a macabre beauty.

  21. Another terrific post! Something I also find intriguing. Great B day!

  22. I have a book about this somewhere in my house. I read it in college for a class. It was all about finding the body, identifying it and the mystery of how he ended up there.

    I don't remember the reasons now, but I remember being fascinated by it at the time.

  23. I'd go with punishment of criminals. Human sacrifice usually seem to be aligned with religious practices or cult practices.

    Perhaps the loved ones of those tossed in the bog threw the other items in to speed them on their way.

  24. Punishment or to hide a crime. The bogs can hold many secrets.

  25. These things are always so fascinating. If one could only take a peek into the past and see what really happened.

  26. Sounds like disposal of criminals to me. Wonder if the people had any idea what the bogs would do to the bodies.

  27. I saw something similar in the national museum in London.This is fascinating.
    Katie atBankerchick Scratchings

  28. I'm sure there's a "rational" explanation for these bog bodies but oh, how my horror writing mind wants to take it somewhere else. :) Oh, and those pics are both creepy and incredible.

  29. You learn something new every day. Great information (and I agree with someone above - icky picture)! LOL

    A to Z: http://www.deborahdera.com

  30. Such conjecture with this one, Shannon. It could be have been a combination of both. Human sacrifice and punishment for criminals.

    Enjoy the alphabet challenge.


  31. Another something to learn. Dang my argument about all my learning be complete after my undergraduate degree fails again!

  32. I've always been fascinated by bog mummies. They are so richly preserved for all of history where Eygptian mummies decay and become brittle.

  33. Fascinating stuff--thanks for sharing!

  34. Haha Dang it! I was way Off! *shakes fists of rage* I should have known better than B being as simple as Big Foot. GAH!

    I'd never heard of the Bog Bodies. I think I lean more towards the criminal dumping. Surely interesting nonetheless, regardless of the origins.

    Jak at The Cryton Chronicles & Dreams in the Shade of Ink

  35. Probably a bit of both. Amazing how well the face is preserved. That man just looks like he's asleep.

  36. I think there are various reasons. I do wonder if people knew the bogs would preserve them like that. It's more effective than making a mummy!

  37. Fascinating, though I don't I'll sleep well tonight.

  38. Fascinating post - similar bodies have been found in Ireland, some clearly having been killed but I think there is some evidence of formal burials. Wonder what it said about you if you died a natural death and were buried in the bog (offended against the community in some way?)
    What was life expectancy in the Iron Age - most bodies seen young but in relative terms I wonder if they were middle aged? Thanks for this - waiting for the next installment...

  39. Dana, me, too! All of this interests me probably more than it should.

    Alex, could be. Could be two different groups doing different things, too.

    Melanie, astounding, isn't it?! Truly, wrinkles, stubble on his chin, veins??

    Al, it really is! There were more pictures online, and it was fascinating to look at them.

    Cheryl, I'm thinking it could definitely be a combination.

    Vicki, I got 'em! Took some looking for some of these letters, but it was fun.

    Dani, fantastic! Nothing better than inspiring someone to look into something.

    Marcy, probably true throughout history, too. That man doesn't look like a criminal, but I bet most people look innocent in death.

    Ida, you're doing the same thing I caught myself doing. Looking at his face, trying to analyze what I saw there. He looks oddly at peace.

    Nandana, ah, I hope you do find your muse, and soon.

    Luna, looking forward to your archaeology post!

    Maple, I know, it blows me away whenever I look at that picture. Amazing.

    Tina, yikes, Winter's Bone, yes! Good movie.

    C. Lee, so creepy, yes. And interesting. I could see it being people they feared, which might go beyond just criminals. Anyone who was "different." For instance, someone who was maybe disabled. I'd be curious if they could find signs of physical disabilities (figure they couldn't mental). Love this!

    Cathrina, yes, out of sight out of mind. I've been wondering if these bogs were at all attached to their source of drinking water, though. :x

  40. Dobson, you made me laugh! I hope I never stop learning. And never run out of things to learn.

    J.L., I hadn't heard of them before, but I'm also fascinated. Here, the Egyptians wanted to be preserved forever, and they did a good job with what they had. But then you have these people who seem to have been hidden away with the wish for disposal, and they were preserved for eternity. Irony.

    Lara, thank you for reading!

    Jak, yes! Some of the days are going to be obvious, but I was hoping to throw some different ones in there. I figured everyone would be guessing Bermuda Triangle! Bigfoot is a good guess, too. I do like sasquatch stories... ;-p

    Nick, he does, doesn't he? Peaceful. Which somehow is the worst part.

    Christine, I wonder the same thing. Or did they stop doing it when they realized it was preserving them? Or did they ever find out?

    Myrite, sorry about that!

    Bridget, I'm betting lifespans were significantly shorter there. Middle age as old age?

  41. Very creepy and I'm going to go with punishment for a crime as to how they ended up like that.

    Interesting, though.

  42. this is great material, Shannon! You must have done extensive research! loved the B-article!

  43. Wow, that man is so well preserved. He looks like he is scrunching his eyes up but the mouth looks fairly relaxed. There are probably as many reasons as bodies though.

  44. Very interesting. His face seems so peaceful, however. A great mystery is afoot here.

  45. Susan, I'm willing to bet you're right. They wouldn't have known it would preserve a body so perfectly. At least in the beginning.

    Willa, oh wow! I wonder if it's still there?

    Ryze, haha, I can imagine it's not something they'd want to focus on too much! Race related, I wonder. Could very well be.

    Julie, apparently it occurs some in places in the U.S., too, but not in this number.

    Helen, it does have a macabre beauty. I'm not sure about whether it was a sacred site, but that is a good question. I think that would help with answering the sacrifice question.

    Darcnina, thank you!

    M.J., I would love to read that book! Will have to look it up. I'm betting it was quite an interesting journey.

    D.G., I hadn't thought of that about the items thrown in. Great theory! Could very well be.

    Susan, I agree, many secrets. I wonder how much hasn't been discovered yet. Or how many bogs dried up and got covered up ages ago.

    Tonja, wouldn't it be amazing to be able to do that? To be able to go back and study a culture, a village, you name it.

    Jan, I wonder the same thing. I can't imagine them WANTING them preserved. If they'd known, you'd think we would have seen village elders and leaders, highly respected people who wanted to be preserved forever.

    Katie, I'd be interested in seeing that display. I'd like to visit the museum there some day.

    Madeline, I know! I think you'll find that with a lot of these topics. My "D" topic has really run away with my brain, and I'm wanting to write about it so badly.

    Deborah, hee hee, yeah, the full body one is creepier to me. His face I find fascinating.

    Gary, true. So many of these posts are full of conjecture, guesses, theories. The beauty of a mystery.

  46. Gruesome. Sacrifice seems most likely and some crime punishment. A good mummy movie could be made from this. We always think of Egypt in that regard.

  47. Shannon,

    I'd never heard of bog bodies before. The thought of someone being held down under the water with a stick is very distressing. What a way to die! So very cruel.

    I also wrote about preserved bodies for my B post, but mine is so different to yours. Isn't it fascinating how the same letter and a similar concept can result in totally different posts?

  48. I've never heard of anything like that before! I have to wonder if both practices were happening.

    Maybe that was where criminals were disposed of, but those who were making sacrifices took the opportunity to dispose of bodies there so they would not be hung for murder. Or perhaps people were making offerings so they would not be haunted by the people killed. There are countless possibilities.

  49. My ancestry is Danish on my fathers side. I may still have relatives in Denmark. I hope none of them are in a bog! What a fascinating find...thanks Shannon.

  50. To me, it sounds more like punishment for criminals. Some ancient cultures believed that if someone were denied a proper burial in the earth, or cremated according to the traditions, they could not get into 'Heaven'. Criminals wouldn't be allowed into 'Heaven' but their bodies had to be disposed of someplace. The neighboring bog seemed to be a good choice. That makes sense to me.

    This kind of stuff really fascinates me.

  51. Fascinating. It does fire up the imagination.

  52. I remember learning about these in my archaeology classes. They're fascinating, aren't they.

  53. This I've heard of and, as with the extinction of the dinosaurs, I don't think there is -A- reason.

  54. This comment has been removed by the author.

  55. Mark, at least some of them must definitely be punishment, right?

    Adriana, thank you! I did do a good amount of research, but it was fun.

    Kirsty, that could be true, too. So many different reasons. And how many were killed by an individual, for instance, and thrown in there?

    Nancy, it really is oddly peaceful, isn't it?

    Sharon, the horror of all these hidden bog bodies rising from the bogs, moon the only light. It would make a great mummy story.

    Sue, that's one of the many things I love about this challenge. 1900+ people trying to write to the same general theme, and each post so very different.

    Rachel, all definitely valid possibilities. Sacrifice to the bog so the dead wouldn't rise. That's messed up, isn't it?

    Chuck, yikes! Wouldn't that be a fascinating story, though?

    Candace, that's right, I've heard of that before. It would make complete sense. Dispose of those who couldn't have an acceptable burial.

    Jeff, good! I'd love it if some stories came out of people reading these and getting ideas.

    Kellie, definitely fascinating. I would have loved to take an archaeology class.

  56. Me thinks sacrifice, I reckon back in those days they all got away with murder.

  57. Andrew, if I stump you once I'll be happy!

    Chris, that's true, a lot of people got away with sacrifice and several types of murder.

  58. For a criminal, who possibly died a violent death by execution, Tollund man looks remarkably peaceful. Perhaps he was a sacrifice, and the items found with him were offerings. However, those 'offerings' might be items left by family members when a criminal was put to death. Maybe throwing them in a bog was like burying them in the unhallowed part of a cemetery, but the family still tried to give the departed some help into the next world. Fun to speculate but probably impossible to every know for sure.

  59. Personally I think it could be a mix of the two, depending on when the trinkets were thrown in, maybe in the begining it was about sacrifice and appeasing some god or other, and then over several years it may have become an easy way of disposing of bodies, much like TV would like us to believe that swamps in the USA and Crocs are used. Bog Bodies are always interesting, thinking of what their lives were like and how they could have ended up there. Awesome post again.

  60. I'm astounded by the state of preservation on the body you show. I love to watch television programmes about this subject. I think they are in the bog for both the reasons you gave.

  61. Interesting...but creepy. I hope this won't haunt me in my sleep.

    Sincerely,Miss Uncertain---sidetracked

  62. Hmm, I'm not sure. But wow. Those are all sorts of creepy.

  63. Hmm, I'm not sure. But wow. Those are all sorts of creepy.

  64. Really gruesome but fascinating at the same time - there has to be a story in there somewhere. Found your site through the A-Z Blogging challenge and I am finding your posts really interesting.

  65. Ew, what a way to die :( It's pretty amazing that they're so well preserved though!

  66. omg I am morbidly fascinated by bog bodies! I learned about them while reading the Nora Gavin novels by Erin Hart.

  67. Mojo, I like all of what you had to say there, about the offerings on unhallowed ground. Interesting theory.

    Wicked, true, it could be a combo. And thank you!

    Francene, isn't is amazing how preserved he is?

    Rowena, I think so!

    Miss Uncertain, I certainly hope it didn't haunt you. Well, at least not too much. ;)

    Kelly, creepy and fascinating, all at the same time.

    Terri, LOL!

    Bookdeals, there must be so many stories in there! I bet if we all undertook writing a story about it, they'd all be different. Wouldn't that be a fun project?

    Trisha, yeah, not a great way to die.

    Jill, oh interesting! Thanks for passing along the book series.