Revisiting the Mysterious Practice of Europe's 'Bog Bodies'


| LAST UPDATE 01/11/2023

By Daria Appleby
Bog Bodies Ancient Ritual Europe
Horst Pfeiffer/picture alliance via Getty Images

A bog body describes the body of a deceased human who has been naturally mummified in a peat bog. Recent investigation has revealed this practice began in southern Scandinavia during the Neolithic era and eventually wormed its way into Northern Europe over time. Now, after studying over 1,000 'bog bodies,' new discoveries have been unveiled.

The deceased human remains are preserved in environments with low oxygen and in "wet and spongy soils," says LiveScience. This practice dates back to 8000 BCE. New findings reveal this became a tradition where bog body practices were carried out from the Stone Age until the modern era. Still, not all bodies ended up buried in bogs. According to the journal Antiquity, published in 2010, a 2,400-year-old Tollund Man in Denmark was the victim of a ritualistic sacrifice and was buried in a bog while others were "deviants or executed criminals." On the contrary, others were fortunate enough to receive special attention and have more of a sentimental burying. These bodies that received more attention were particularly "preserved mummies with skin and hair."

Bog Bodies Mummy Europe Discovery
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According to the author and archeologist in the Netherlands, Roy van Beek, bog bodies should not go unacknowledged as partial remains or bones could lead to further discoveries. He told LiveScience that the bodies that aren't buried in bogs are "actually pretty much the same as the well-preserved bog bodies that everyone knows, but they just have been preserved in a different way... They provide very interesting evidence of pathology and death causes in some cases." The idea that bogs preserve human bodies with a high standard is not completely known, yet the Sphagnum moss can lower pH levels and "prevent spoilage," giving a clearer indication. According to the study, preservation in bogs is more advanced if placed in water, while this can "escape insects and microorganisms." After investigating 266 sites across Northern Europe, van Beek and his colleagues gave clarification of bog bodies and skeleton trends from 9000 B.C. and A.D. 1900. They found bog sites either held one deceased person or were used repeatedly. For starters, Denmark holds the remains of more than 380 people killed by violence and left in open water, while Ireland, the U.K., Denmark, and Southern Sweden contain the most human remains. This reveals that the tradition continued through the middle ages into modern times, as the practice began in southern Scandinavia 5,000 years ago.

There were far more human remains in bogs than ever assumed, considering that "bog mummies spiked after 1000 B.C. onward." Specifically in Europe, this has provided insight into "ancient peoples' practices and beliefs," but bogs are harder to find while the preservation is hidden. However, due to drainage over the years, bogs are slowly disappearing - and in return, the removal of pleats can be used for fuel.

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