The Bog Bodies of Europe

Hand of the Grauballe Man Bog Body, Mosegaard-Museum, Denmark
Hand of the Grauballe Man Bog Body, Mosegaard-Museum, Denmark. Malene Bruger

The term bog bodies (or bog people) is used to refer to human burials, some likely sacrificed, placed within peat bogs of Denmark, Germany, Holland, Britain, and Ireland and naturally mummified. The highly acidic peat acts as a remarkable preservative, leaving the clothing and skin intact, and creating poignant and memorable images of people of the past.

The reason that bogs permit a high level of preservation is because they are both acidic and anaerobic (oxygen-poor). When a body is thrown into a bog, the cold water will hinder putrefaction and insect activity. Sphagnum mosses and the presence of tannin add to the preservation by having anti-bacterial properties.

The total number of bodies pulled from European bogs is unknown, partly because they were were first rediscovered in the 17th century and records are shaky. Estimates range wildly between about 200 to 700. The oldest bog body is Koelbjerg Woman, recovered from a peat bog in Denmark. the most recent dates to about 1000 AD. Most of the bodies were placed in the bogs during the European Iron Age and Roman period, between about 800 BC and AD 200.

Bog Bodies

Denmark: Grauballe Man, Tollund Man, Huldre Fen Woman, Egtved Girl, Trundholm Sun Chariot (not a body, but from a Danish bog all the same)

Germany: Kayhausen Boy

UK: Lindow Man

Ireland: Gallagh Man

Don't forget to try your hand at the Bog Body Quiz

Sources and Recommended Reading

  • Coles, Byrony and Coles, John. 1989. People of the Wetlands: Bogs, Bodies and Lake-Dwellers. London, Thames and Hudson.
  • Glob, Peter Vilhelm. 2004[1965]. The Bog People: Iron-Age Man Preserved. New York Review of Books, New York.
  • Lynnerup, Niels 2007 Mummies. Yearbook of Physical Anthropology 50:162-190.
  • Sanders, Karin. 2009. Bodies in the Bog and the Archaeological Imagination. University of Chicago Press: Chicago. ISBN 13:978-0-226-73404-0 (cloth). 233 pages, plus 82 pages of notes, bibliography and index; 63 black and white photographs.