Ancient dead bodies and rare treasures are found in bogs to the horror of some and the amazement of others
The murky depths of a mossy peat bog can preserve ancient relics and conceal evidence of strange and disturbing archaic rituals. The low-oxygen, high-acid environment of peat bogs found in the United Kingdom, Ireland, Germany, and Scandinavia is perfect for preserving ancient artifacts and historical treasures. Many amazing items ranging from preserved corpses to books and murder weapons have all been pulled from bogs.
Bogs have a dark and sinister reputation going back to ancient times due to their dangerous, stagnant waters. They were feared, but also revered. The treasures pulled from the peat tell a strange tale:
Hundreds of mummified corpses have been found in bogs, some dating back thousands of years. The evidence suggests that many of the bodies were the result of violent murders or human sacrifice in order to please the gods. The corpses of women and men, adults and children, have all been discovered in bogs. One of the most famous ‘Moorleiche’ (German for bog body) is the Tollund Man, an incredible Iron-Age mummy recovered in Denmark. His skin is so well preserved that you can see the hairs on his chin and the wrinkles on his face. The rope around his neck remains gruesomely intact.
Archaeologists say that bog bodies seem to have suffered violent deaths – either by murder or execution – or even for human sacrifice. Sometimes the ancient weapons are found near the victim, tossed in after the deed. Other times, sacrificial weapons are found in deposits all by themselves; axes, daggers, swords, shields, or ropes for hanging.
Books, Musical Instruments, Tools
Not all are macabre finds. Some functional items have been discovered as well. A 1,200 year old book of psalms called the Faddan More Psalter, was recovered from a peat bog in Ireland in 2006. Incredibly, the writing was still legible. Interestingly, trumpets and bronze horns used for music have been retrieved from bogs, as well as everyday implements like cauldrons, bells, spearheads and buckets. Some of the items were likely put in the bog purposefully, but for reasons historians can only guess at.
Bogs were used as ancient refrigerators. While digging in the peat, people have turned up many small wooden barrels filled with a waxy, butter-like substance . The guess is that the dairy product was stored in the cool bog to keep it from going rancid. Other barrels reportedly contained meat. Curious (and brave) souls at the Nordic Food Lab have recreated the bog-butter and given it the taste test, as seen here: “Bog butter: a gastronomic perspective”.
Scientists have discovered that two 3,000 year old Scottish bog bodies are actually made from the remains of six people. The skeletons were examined and were found to have been assembled from the parts of different corpses. Based on DNA testing, none of the skeletons shared a mother. The scientists suggest these composites are the result of ‘bizarre rituals’. Terry Brown, a professor of bio-medical archaeology at the University of Manchester suggested to National Geographic that these ‘Frankenstein’ mummies may have been practical in rituals: “Maybe the head dropped off and they got another head to stick on.”
Liz Leafloor, 2014