Bodies Dumped in Bogs Over 7K Years Reveal a Nasty End

Signs of violence, including 'overkilling,' found in first comprehensive study of bog bodies
By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff
Posted Feb 4, 2023 10:00 AM CST
Bodies Dumped in Bogs Over 7K Years Reveal a Nasty End
The preserved remains of Yde Girl, found in a bog in the Netherlands in 1897.   (Wikimedia Commons/C messier)

Ancient bodies pulled from bogs are often so well preserved, they could pass for modern-day murder victims. And they're often murder victims. A new study covering 7,000 years of history across the New Stone, Bronze, Iron, and Middle Ages finds most human remains discovered naturally mummified in bogs—whose sphagnum moss and peat suppress microorganisms responsible for decay, resulting in preserved soft tissue and hair—show "signs of multiple traumatic injuries," as the New York Times reports. The so-called Yde Girl, unearthed in the Netherlands in 1897, not only bore a stab wound to her collarbone but had likely been strangled with a 7-foot-long strip of cloth found wrapped around her neck.

Roy van Beek recalls being enthralled by Yde Girl's preserved remains as a teenager. Decades later, he authored the first comprehensive survey of bog bodies, covering more than 1,000 remains pulled from 266 sites in Ireland, the UK, Norway, Sweden, Finland, Denmark, the Netherlands, Germany, Poland and the Baltic states—which should tell you how widespread this funerary tradition was. Researchers writing in the journal Antiquity trace the practice from about 5000BC to AD1500, beginning in southern Scandinavia as the collapse of the Eurasian Ice Sheet led to bog growth, then slowly spreading across northern Europe, per Arkeonews. Of 57 bodies for which a cause of death could be determined, at least 45 died violently, per the Times.

Perhaps most striking is the "overkilling," as observed with Yde Girl. "Seven victims appear to have been slain by several means," with almost all dating from 400BC to AD400, per the Times. Such evidence "make[s] it safe to assume that most finds of human remains … reflect intentional depositions," the researchers write. Ritual sacrifice is one possibly, as Cardiff University archaeology professor Miranda Aldhouse-Green tells the Times. She notes many bog bodies from the Iron Age are of adolescents, some showing signs of disability. Yde Girl had severe scoliosis. These individuals were perhaps believed "to segue between the material and spirit worlds," and their ritual killing "would provide spectacle similar to Roman gladiatorial shows," she says. (More archaeology stories.)

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