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Unexplained Mysteries of Bog bodies

Source : http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bog_body
Homme de Tollund Bog Bodies Bog bodies, also known as bog people, are preserved human bodies found in sphagnum bogs in Northern Europe, Great Britain and Ireland. Unlike most ancient human remains, bog bodies have retained their skin and internal organs due to the unusual conditions of the surrounding area. These conditions include highly acidic water, cold temperature, and a lack of oxygen, combining to preserve but severely tan their skin.

Although their skin is preserved, their bones are generally not, as the acid in the peat dissolves the calcium phosphate of bone. Some of the bodies retain intricate details like tattoos and fingerprints. Fingerprint expert C.H. Vogelius Andersen was astonished to find that Grauballe Man's hand prints were clearer than his own. The stubble and facial features of Tollund Man are particularly well preserved.

Bog chemistry

There are a limited number of bogs which have the correct conditions for preservation of mammalian tissue. Most of these are located in the colder climes of northern Europe near bodies of salt water. For example, in the area of Denmark where the Haraldskær Woman was recovered, salt air from the North Sea blows across the Jutland wetlands and provides an ideal environment for the growth of peat. As new peat replaces the old peat, the older material underneath rots and releases humic acid, also known as bog acid. The bog acids, with pH levels similar to vinegar, conserve the human bodies in the same way as fruit is preserved by pickling. In addition, peat bogs form in areas lacking drainage and hence are characterized by almost completely anaerobic conditions. This environment, highly acidic and devoid of oxygen, denies the prevalent subsurface aerobic organisms any opportunity to initiate decomposition. Researchers discovered that conservation also required the body to be placed in the bog during the winter or early spring when the water temperature is cold—i.e., less than 4 °C (40 °F). This allows the bog acids to saturate the tissues before decay can begin. Bacteria are unable to grow rapidly enough for decomposition at temperatures under 4 °C.

The bog chemistry environment involves a completely saturated acidic environment, where considerable concentrations of organic acids and aldehydes are present. Layers of sphagnum and peat assist in preserving the cadavers by enveloping the tissue in a cold immobilizing matrix, impeding water circulation and any oxygenation. An additional feature of anaerobic preservation by acidic bogs is the ability to conserve hair, clothing and leather items. The Bronze Age Egtved Girl, also discovered in Jutland, Denmark, is a good example. Modern experimenters have been able to mimic bog conditions in the laboratory and successfully demonstrate the preservation process, albeit over shorter time frames than the 2,500 years that Haraldskær Woman's body has survived. Most of the bog bodies discovered had some aspects of decay or else were not properly conserved. When such specimens are exposed to the normal atmosphere, they may rapidly begin to decompose. As a result, many specimens have been effectively destroyed.

Bog bodies found

Preserved bodies of humans and animals have been discovered in bogs in Britain, Ireland, northern Germany, the Netherlands, Denmark (both Jutland and Zealand), and southern Sweden. Records of such finds go back as far as the 18th century, when the Kibbelgaarn body was discovered in the Netherlands in 1791. A 1965 German study cataloged more than 1850 bog bodies found in Northern Europe[7]; however, discrepancies found in the documentation has reduced the actual number of bog bodies to several hundred.

Until the mid-20th century, it was not readily apparent at the time of discovery whether a body has been buried in a bog for years, decades, or centuries. However, modern forensic and medical technologies (such as radiocarbon dating) were developed that allowed researchers to more closely determine the age of the burial, the person's age at death, and other details. Scientists have been able to study their skin, reconstruct their appearance and even determine what their last meal was from their stomach contents. Their teeth also indicate their age at death and what type of food they ate throughout their lifetime. The earliest bog body, that of Koelbjerg Woman from Denmark, has been radiometrically dated to circa 3500 BC. The newest is from the 16th century AD, a woman in Ireland who may have been buried in unhallowed ground following a suicide. The majority of bog bodies have been dated to the Pre-Roman Iron Age.

Causes of death

Many bog bodies show signs of being stabbed, bludgeoned, hanged or strangled, or a combination of these methods. The corpses were sometimes decapitated before burial and staked down with stakes or twisted willow or hazel withies. Some bodies show signs of torture, such as Old Croghan Man, who had deep cuts beneath his nipples. Interpretations of the forensic examinations vary; it is debated whether they were ritually slain and placed in the bog as an execution for a crime or as a human sacrifice. Some bog bodies, such as Tollund Man from Denmark, have been found with the rope used to strangle them still around their necks. Some, such as the Yde Girl in the Netherlands and bog bodies in Ireland, had the hair on one side of their heads closely cropped, although this could be due to one side of their head being exposed to oxygen for a longer period of time than the other. The bog bodies seem consistently to have been members of the upper class: their fingernails are manicured, and tests on hair protein routinely record good nutrition. Strabo records that the Celts practiced auguries on the entrails of human victims: on some bog bodies, such as one of the Weerdinge Men found in southern Netherlands, the entrails have been partly drawn out through incisions.

Modern techniques of forensic analysis now suggest that some injuries, such as broken bones and crushed skulls, were not the result of torture, but rather due to the weight of the bog. For example, the fractured skull of Grauballe Man was at one time thought to have been caused by a blow to the head. However, a CT scan of Grauballe Man by Danish scientists determined his skull was fractured due to pressure from the bog long after his death.

Archaeological research

In the case of the "mummies" of Cladh Hallan, the burials have been interpreted as a primitive method of embalming important individuals.

X-ray is a very important step in uncovering the bog bodies as it can draw a picture of a body in the peat, which can then be removed without harming it by cutting blindly. Radio carbon dating is also very common as it accurately gives the date of the find, most usually from the Stone Age. In terms of determining the cause of death of the bodies, in a surprising number of cases, there are obvious signs of violence and murder. The Tollund Man, for example, had a rope knotted round his neck, and Windeby I had been staked down under the water.

Because the peat marsh preserves soft internal tissue, the stomach contents can be analyzed. These give a good picture of the diet of those people. Facial reconstruction is one particularly impressive technique used in studying the bog bodies. Originally designed for identifying modern faces in crimes, this technique is a way of working out the facial features of a person by the shape of their skull. The face of one bog body, Yde Girl, was reconstructed in 1993 by Richard Neave of Manchester University using CT scans of her head. Yde Girl and her modern reconstruction are displayed at the Drents Museum in Assen. Such reconstructions have also been made of the heads of Lindow Man (British Museum, London, United Kingdom), Grauballe Man and Windeby Girl (Archäologisches Landesmuseum, Schleswig, Germany).

Other Bog Bodies

These bog bodies are well known, many were found in Europe.

Kayhausen Boy - The X-ray of the Kayhausen Boy

A bog body found in Saxony, Germany. His arms and feet were bound together with clothing and capes. He was stabbed several times in the neck. The boy was around seven years of age at the time of his death. His body dates from 300-400 BC. The boy may have suffered from an infected socket at the top of his femur, with the result that he wouldn't have been able to walk without assistance. Because of the high incidence of deformities among bog bodies, such as the Yde Girl, anthropologists have suggested that the disabled were sacrificed because they were considered unfavored of the Gods.

Elling Woman

The Elling Woman is a bog body discovered in 1938 west of Silkeborg, Denmark. The Tollund Man was later discovered around 200 feet away, twelve years after the Elling Woman's discovery. She was discovered by Jens Zakariasson, who at first believed that her body was that of a drowned animal. She was hanged, like the Tollund Man. The year of her death is approximately 280 BC, also around the time of the Tollund Man. However, it is impossible to tell if she and the Tollund Man were killed at the same time. Her facial features are so poorly preserved, it would have been impossible to tell the mummy's sex, if her hair hadn't been preserved. Her hair was braided and tied into a knot, if it had not, then her hair would have been 90 centimeters long.Elling Woman is believed to have been a sacrifice. She had suffered from osteoporosis at an incredibly young age of 25-30.

Neu Versan Man

The Neu Versen Man, also known as Red Franz, is a mummified bog body discovered in 1900, near Neu Versen, Germany. He is believed to have lived around 200-400AD. The man was around 35 years old. The Neu Versen Man was nicknamed Red Franz because of his red hair. However, his hair was most likely blond, but seemed red because of the chemicals in the bog. He met his end by a cut throat, possibly for a sacrifice. His face was reconstructed, as well as the Yde Girl, Windeby I, and Lindow Man.

Osterby Head - The Osterby Head

Discovered in 1948 in Osterby, Germany, when two peat cutters were working. They unearthed the head two feet below the surface, which was wrapped in a roedeer skin cape. Scientists from the Landes Museum dated the man to be around 50–60 years of age when he was killed. The man was decapitated, no other part of his body was ever found. His hair was in the Suebian knot (also known as the Swabian Knot) hairstyle. The man's hair had probably been a light blond color, but after being in the bog for a few thousand years, it turned a bright red. The knot dates back to around 2,000 years ago, where the Swabian Knot was a common hair style. The Roman historian Tacitus described this style as typical of the Suebi Tribe. The head is mainly a skull, but there is still a small amount of skin on it. The cause of the man's death was a blow to the left temple.

Stidsholtmose Head

The Stidsholtmose Head is that of a woman discovered in 1859. She was decapitated by a blow to the third and fourth vertebrae. Her hair is a dark red, which comes from the chemicals in peat bogs. Her hair had been tied into a knot, and fastened with a woven band, which was unfortunately destroyed. Her head was never scientifically dated, and the rest of her body was never found. Her hair was 20 inches long. She is also known as the Stidsholt Fen Woman. Her head is on display in the Copenhagen Museum in Denmark.

Rendswühren Fen Man

The Rendswühren Fen Man was discovered in 1871, at the Keil Fen, Germany. "He is estimated to have been 40-50 years of age when he was battered to death, which left a triangular hole in his head. He was found naked, with a piece of leather on his left leg. He was bound with leather thongs, wrapped tightly around his body. A cape was found near him. He was otherwise preserved by smoking his body."-Professor P.V. Glob

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