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Praising the Lord or serving the darkness? Peek into the mysteries of 2,000-year-old bog people

One man’s throat was slit ear-to-ear, a woman has clear strangulation marks around her throat and two people were hung.

Sacrifices, murder or something morbidly “other” resulted in each of their deaths – but why?

The bodies were discovered in peat bogs and carbon dating revealed some are 8,000-years-old.

Bog bodies are human remains that are naturally mummified within peat bogs. These bodies can be preserved forever, as well as any clothing, hair and teeth.

As macabre as it sounds, many people travel to museums showcasing famous bog people and wonder at the reason for their deaths.

The fascinating remains reveal simultaneously frightening and curious details about each person recovered from the bottom of the ancient rivers of sludge.

According to Adam Graham, who shared his experiences with the BBC, the bog people are of the Iron Age and many were killed as sacrifices to be offered to the gods – though many scholars believe there is a change the bodies are those of “criminals, immigrants or wayfarers.”

Some, such as the famous Tollund Man, reveal very clear causes of death.

An intricately braided noose was still wrapped around his neck, perfectly preserved. In fact, the rope was not the only thing to survive at the bottom of the bog.

The Tollund Man’s face was perfectly preserved. He wore a hat, his eyes were closed and every wrinkle can be seen clearly.

He wears a small, curious semi-smile and appears to be sleeping.

He is believed to be about 24,000-years-old and is so life-like that when his body was discovered in the 1950s, authorities briefly mistook him for a boy who had recently been reported missing.

Though the Tollund Man was perfectly preserved, the reason for his death was not. Did he commit suicide, thus the small smile and peaceful expression? Was he a sacrifice? Perhaps he was put to death for crimes he committed – or was wrongfully accused and paid with his life.

There is nothing researchers can do to determine, without question, the reason for his death. His is a 24,000-year-old mystery never fated to be solved.

Another ancient mystery is that of a woman found weighed down with branches and naked, her clothing discovered nearby.


Grauballe Man was discovered with his throat slit. Grauballe Man was discovered with his throat slit (

The Haraldskćr Woman was discovered with a very different expression than the Tollund Man.

He expression was one of shock – very unusual compared to the normally peaceful expressions of bog bodies. It was unlikely she was a willing sacrificial lamb. 25;;08 *1 083*6-5

Mads Ravn, the head archeologist at the Vejle Museum in Denmark explained the woman, whose body lay in an open glass sarcophagus, was discovered by peat diggers in 1835.

“[S]he was thought to be the 10th-century Viking Queen Gunhildd, who according to the Jomsvikinga Saga was drowned by her husband Harald Bluetooth…But that’s untrue and we now know from radiocarbon dating that she’s about 2,200 years old.”

When Haraldskćr Woman was discovered, it was clear her remains were meant to be lost forever. Her body had been pinned down and grooves on her neck suggested she was strangled to death.

“We’re now doing isotope analysis on her hair and working with a new DNAA technique that’s extracting DNA from the inner ear,” Ravn reported. “We’re hoping to get results soon so we can find out more about her.”

They may be able to discover more about her origins but again, there is no way researchers can know why she was killed. With her clothes being cast aside, was she raped then murdered to protect her rapist’s identity? Was it a lover’s spat or something much darker?

Other bodies, such as that of Grauballe Man, reveal gruesome deaths.

Pauline Asingh, an archaeologist and the head of exhibitions at the Moesgaard Museum, where Grauballe Man is stored, explained: “Like most bog bodies, his hair and skin was turned red by a chemical process called the Maillard reaction. He’s really a beautiful man.”

His face is an expression of serenity and his body appears to have been in a relaxed pose but the truth of his death is quite the opposite.

“He was forced on his knees and his throat was slashed from ear to ear by someone standing behind him,” Asingh stated. “But he was deposited with care into the bog. It might sound violent and careless to us, but sacrifices were an important part of cultural life in this period.”

Undiscovered bodies remain beneath many bogs around the world, each with complex stories of their own.

Though they are mummified now, it is important to remember these people lived and experienced things we will never truly understand. Now that their souls have departed, there is nothing left but their mysterious remains, forever preserved by the bogs of time.

By Kenya Sinclair


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