Archaeological Mystery Scientific mystery

Impeccably Conserved ‘Bog Bodies’ Unveil Their Harsh Mysteries After 8,000 Years

The first bog body was discovered in 1640, and since then, hundreds more have been uncovered in peat bogs across northern Europe. These well-preserved corpses have been dated to various periods, with the oldest dating back to 8000 BC. By classifying them in a database, researchers have been able to identify patterns among the various bog bodies and have found that many of these individuals met a violent end.

An in-depth Study of Bog Bodies

Dr. Roy van Beek, an archaeologist from Wageningen University & Research, and his team of professionals have developed a comprehensive database analyzing over 1,000 preserved bodies discovered in 266 historical bog sites across northern Europe. Melanie Giles, a British archaeologist not involved in the study, said, “While a number of bog scholars have been arguing that we need to reconceptualize bog bodies to include the skeletonized remains from more alkaline bog lands and wetlands, this is the first major study to do it systematically.”

The database classified the bog bodies into three groups: bog mummies, bog skeletons, and a third group consisting of both. Trends in causes of death were identified from this database. By using data such as their ages and time of death, it was evident that a rise in bog burials occurred during the Neolithic period, which continued into the Bronze Age. Most cases involved individuals who suffered from traumatic injuries, and many were murder victims.

The Bogs Provided the Perfect Environment for Mummification

These bog mummies have largely been found in raised bogs throughout northern Europe. Raised bogs are dome-shaped masses that allow peat moss to grow and thrive, typically in lowland areas. Reaching depths of 30 feet or more, these are highly acidic areas that are poor in mineral salts. These conditions make the perfect environment for the natural mummification of human bodies or other organisms.

These bodies have been covered in layers of sphagnum moss and peat which helped to preserve them for centuries. The moss and peat cover the tissue, making a cold environment that’s highly acidic and prevents exposure to oxygen. The moss also releases multiple chemicals that make it difficult for microorganisms to feed off the bodies, which would otherwise cause decay and rot. However, the sphagnum moss eats away at the bones. This disintegrates them but leaves the soft tissue behind.

The Yde Girl


The Yde Girl is a bog body discovered near the village of Yde in the Netherlands in 1897. Analysis revealed that she was approximately 16 years old when she died, between 170 BC and 230 BC, and that she suffered from severe scoliosis which likely affected her gait.

The preserved marks on her body provide evidence of the violent fates that many bog bodies encountered. A stab wound was discovered near her collarbone beneath the woolen cloak that she was wearing. Furthermore, a seven-foot piece of cloth was wrapped around her neck three times. Dr. van Beek commented that “The cloth was probably used to strangle her.”

Other Bog Bodies Suggest Violent Ends

The Yde Girl is just one of the many bog bodies found in northern Europe that bears visible signs of trauma and mutilation. Other notable bog bodies include the Windeby Girl, Clonycavan Man, Haraldskjaer Woman, Lindow Man, and Old Croghan Man. Although not all bog mummies have been proven to have had violent deaths due to varying states of preservation, for those that are well-preserved, determining the cause of death is usually straightforward.

The Grauballe Man, found in 1952 in Nebel Mose bog, dates back to the third century BC during the early Iron Age period. He was believed to be in his mid-30s at the time of his death, and his throat was slit from ear to ear. His body was well-preserved, making the cause of his death easy to determine.

The Tollund Man was discovered in 1950 in Bjældskovdal bog and dates back to 405-380 BC. He was between 30 and 40 years old when he died from suffocation resulting from hanging.

In Dr. van Beek’s study, 57 bog mummies had their cause of death determined, with 45 of them meeting violent ends. The victims were killed through means such as bludgeoning, dismemberment, or mutilation, with some bog bodies even suggesting multiple attacks. Scholars refer to the practice of inflicting excessive trauma as “overkilling.”

Why Did They Die?

The question of why bog bodies died in the first place remains a major area of interest for researchers. For some, their cause of death is apparent. For example, a bog containing over 380 remains of ancient warriors dating back to the first century AD suggests that those who died in battle were dumped into the bog and subsequently mummified.

Other bog body sites contain only one mummy, and these have been analyzed to determine their cause of death. Some scholars believe that many bog bodies were victims of ritual sacrifices, which were conducted during times of crisis such as famine or extreme weather. Dr. Miranda Aldhouse-Green, emeritus professor of archaeology at Cardiff University, suggests that such killings were used as a way of binding communities together, as ritual killings provided a spectacle similar to Roman gladiatorial shows.

Most of the bog bodies dating back to the Iron Age share two common features: youth and some form of disability. For example, the Yde Girl had severe scoliosis that stunted her growth, but her condition may have also been perceived as a sign of divinity or shamanic powers. According to Aldhouse-Green, in traditional societies, individuals with disabilities were thought to have shamanic abilities that enabled them to move between the material and spiritual worlds.


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