What are Bog Bodies?

Bog bodies are bodies that have been cast into or who fell into bogs while alive. Peat bogs, bogs with rich mats of sphagnum moss, are fairly common in Europe, especially in Britain, Ireland and Scandinavia. Many of the bogs are thousands of

Lindow Man: 2000 year old bog body
Lindow Man: 2000 year old bog body

years old. As the moss dies, and is replaced by new growth, the old plant matter begins to turn to peat, a thick fibrous mat that makes wonderful fuel for heating. The bog water interacts with the acids in the moss and produce tannin and other chemicals that preserve the bodies that fall or are cast into the bog; hence the numerous well-preserved bog bodies. From a Celtic point of view, the most interesting bodies are those that are a thousand or more years old, many of which appear to have been deliberate sacrifices, willing or unwilling, for ritual purposes. Because of the preservative qualities of the bog, tissues, even soft organ tissue, stomach contents, hair, nails, and clothing are frequently preserved well enough for forensic analysis. Typically the stomach contents and traces of pollens, and the teeth and nails can be used to provide information about diet, health, age, and the time of year and location of the body when the person died. Clothing is particularly welcomed; we have very little iron age clothing, and textiles are often assoicated with bog finds.

There are a number of well-known bog bodies; the most recent, and the one we have the best data on, is Lindow Man. But recently a body was found in a peat bog in in the town of Uchte, in Lower Saxony (that’s in the northern part of Germany). Peat bogs are now mined with heavy machinery which remove blocks of peat for fuel. That means that bog finds, usually the remnants of Iron Age sacrifices, of humans as well as objects, are damaged. In this case, the bog has given up the preserved body of a young girl between 16 and 20, committed to the bog about 650 BC, earlier than both Lindow Man (between AD 20 and 90) and Denmark’s Tollund man (c. 350 B. C.). The Girl of the Uchter Moor is another bog victim.

In 2003 two more bodies were found in Irish bogs, both male, both about from about 2,300 years ago, and both showing signs of ritual sacrifice. The first body, called Clonycavan man, was found in a bog in Clonycavan, near Dublin. The forearms, hands and lower abdomen are missing, probably destroyed by the peat cutting machine. He was a young, perhaps in his twenties, and no more than 5ft 2in tall (1.6m). His skull was smashed by a heavy edged implement. Croghan man was also young, but much taller; the length of his arms suggest that he would have stood around 6ft 6in tall. He seems to have been tortured before he died. His nipples had been cut and he had been stabbed in the ribs. A cut on his arm suggests that he tried to defend himself during the attack that ended his life, perhaps an indication that his was an unwilling sacrifiece. After death his head was severed, and his body dismembered. Hazel ropes were passed through his arms before he was buried in the bog

Works Cited

See the Bodies in the Bog Reading List.

BBC News. “Iron Age Bog Bodies Discovered in Ireland.” January 7, 2005.

Mirror. “Murdered 2,500 Hundred Years Ago.” January 7, 2005.

“Bodies of the Bog.” Archaeology. Dec. 10, 1997.

Ancient ‘Bog Body’ Unearthed in Germany.” Deutsche Welle. June 25, 2005.