Rethinking Bog People

In college I had a work-study job in the library, and my favorite part was shelving books, because I worked alone, deep in the stacks, and if I found something interesting, I could skim it quickly and either check it out or come back for it.bogpeople_thumb[2]

One day I rolled my cart up to the rows of books awaiting reshelving, and there was one whose spine read The Bog People — Glob.

Was this for real?  BogGlobBog?

It turned out to be serious anthropology: Here is an American Anthropologist review (PDF) from 1969, when it was published. Pagan sacrifices? Medieval murders? I think I learned the word liripipe from reading The Bog People, rather than by joining the Society for Creative Anachronism.

The bog mummies are so fascinating because of their state of preservation. They are not just bones – you can see them as individuals, often wearing the clothing in which they died.

People create stories about them, such as Lindow Man, the so-called Druid prince. Did he suffer a ritualistic Robert Graves-ish triple death — clubbing, throat-cutting, and strangulation?

Others, such as Ronald Hutton, offer a simpler explanation: the so-called throat-cutting was the accidental slash of the peat-cutter’s spade, the ligature merely a cord holding an amulet or piece of jewelry, and the cause of death was a straightforward bludgeoning — why, no one knows.

Archaeologists debate whether the bog bodies were simple crime victims or ritual-murder victims. Were they locals or outsiders? Ordinary people or celebrities?

Because some bear horrific wounds, such as slashed throats, and were buried instead of cremated like most others in their communities, scientists have suggested the bodies had been sacrificed as criminals, slaves, or simply commoners. The Roman historian Tacitus started this idea in the first century A.D. by suggesting they were deserters and criminals. . . .

Niels Lynnerup, a forensic anthropologist at the University of Copenhagen who has studied bog bodies, believes that they were sacrificed—but the enigma, he said, revolves around why.

You look at their faces, and you wonder how they ended up tossed into a pool in a bog.

 

1 thought on “Rethinking Bog People

  1. P.V. Glob’s book was one of those that really got me into archaeology – I still have the tatty old charity-shop paperback! Sure, it’s a little dated in parts, particularly as scientific techniques developed over the last half-century have been able to revolutionise how much we can learn from the bog bodies, but it’s still a fantastic quick read, and remains the go-to book for anyone who wants to start exploring this fascinating subject.

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