The bog bodies examined in this video are victims. Violently killed thousands of years ago, these corpses of men, women, and children have been naturally preserved by the unique chemistry of Northern Europe’s bogs.
Today, archaeologists and anthropologists are acting as crime-scene investigators. They’re using their knowledge of chemistry, geology, and human behavior to better understand the circumstances that led to these gruesome deaths.
Watch this four-minute video from the National Geographic Channel, shot on location in a Danish bog, then discuss the questions in the Questions tab.
What physical characteristics of Northern European bogs helped preserve the “bog bodies”?
- Sphagnum moss interacts with peat and water to create an “antiseptic” bog environment that one expert calls “the secret behind the bog bodies.”
- How bog bodies are different from other mummies is explored more fully in Question 1.
Consult National Geography Standard 13: How the forces of cooperation and conflict among people influence the division and control of Earth's surface
Most bog bodies recovered in Ireland have been discovered on the borders of ancient Irish kingdoms. Do students think this is a coincidence?
- Many anthropologists think it is a coincidence. However, at least one historian thinks the locations may hint at royal sacrifice. A theory concerning the placement of Irish bog bodies is more fully explored in Question 1.
What factors do students think contributed to the deaths of the bodies in the bogs?
- According to a National Geographic magazine article, victims may have been killed to appease the “fertility goddesses that Celtic and Germanic peoples believed held the power of life and death. It could have happened one winter after a bad harvest, the researchers say. People were hungry, reduced to eating chaff and weeds. They believed that one of their number had to die so the rest could survive.”
- The rituals archaeologists think are associated with the bog bodies are more fully explored in Question 2.
- Most bog bodies are found in Northern Europe. However, peat ponds in Florida have also preserved the skeletons of ancient Native Americans.
- The oldest bog body yet discovered is that of Koelbjerg Woman. This 25-year-old Danish woman died around 8000 BCE.
- In 1976, Danish police successfully took fingerprints of Tollund Man, probably the world’s most famous bog body and the one shown in the video. At more than 2300 years old, these are the oldest fingerprints on record!
- Many bog bodies are so well preserved scientists can tell what they ate for their last meal. Most had cereals (such as wheat or rye) or bread, and a few had meat.
- The hair on most bog bodies is red. They weren’t all redheads, however—the color is a result of hair’s chemical reaction with the acidic water in the bog. Scientists don’t know the actual color of the mummies’ hair.
- Not all bog bodies are ancient. The pristine bodies of Russian soldiers killed during World War II were discovered in Polish bogs in the 1990s.
unknown person or contributor.
person who studies cultures and characteristics of communities and civilizations.
person who studies artifacts and lifestyles of ancient cultures.
wetland of soft ground made mostly of decaying plant matter.
prehistoric remains of a person, preserved and discovered in a wetland bog.
study of the atoms and molecules that make up different substances.
condition or situation.
capacity of soil to sustain plant growth; or the average number of children born to women in a given population.
study of the physical history of the Earth, its composition, its structure, and the processes that form and change it.
gross or violent.
the gathering and collection of crops, including both plants and animals.
an attack or move to take possession.
last of the prehistoric "three ages," following the Stone Age and the Bronze Age, marked by the use of iron for industry.
corpse of a person or animal that has been preserved by natural environmental conditions or human techniques.
series of customs or procedures for a ceremony, often religious.
destruction or surrender of something as way of honoring or showing thanks.
influenced by legends, spirits, or stories of the supernatural.