When people think of mummies, images of linen-wrapped forms pulled from Egyptian tombs are what generally come to mind. While it is true that the most famous man-made mummies can be found in Egypt, many people do not know about the natural mummies that have been found throughout Europe. These mummies have been called “bog bodies” due to their location within the many peat bogs scattered across Europe.
Instead of using the dry desert air of Egypt to pull moisture from human remains, many of the mummies found throughout Europe were created naturally. Bodies, often those of individuals who had been a part of human sacrificial practices, were disposed of or buried in peat bogs.
These bogs had some very unique conditions which caused the bodies to become mummified instead of rotting away. Unlike Egyptian mummies, bog bodies are often extremely well preserved and in some cases were even mistaken for the bodies of individuals that were recently deceased.
A body will go through several stages as it decomposes. Microbes and bacteria break down the cells, causing a body to rot. As well, insects such as blowflies and flesh flies will either consume a body directly or lay eggs so that their offspring can do so. If conditions such as temperature, acidity and oxygen levels are not right, decomposition can either slow down significantly or, in the case of the bog bodies, stop altogether.
A peat bog is made up of partially decomposed vegetation. The conditions that make it impossible for vegetation to decompose properly are the same conditions that mummify the bog bodies. In a peat bog, the level of acidity is quite high and the temperature is quite low. Both of these factors mean that bacteria and microbes cannot aid in decomposition. As well, there is very little oxygen. There are very few insects in a peat bog, making it almost impossible for these bodies to completely rot away.
Bog bodies tend to have the skin, hair and clothing intact as none of it is able to rot away. Many of the bog bodies that have been discovered in Europe date from the European Iron age to the Roman period and were deposited in the bogs sometime between 800 BCE and 200CE. Bog bodies have taught us many valuable pieces of information about the lives of individuals who lived during this time and are among some of the most significant archeological finds to date.
In fact, it is not only clothing, skin and hair that can be found on bog bodies. In some cases, the weapons used to kill them were also found on the bodies. In the case of one bog body known as Tollund Man, a length of rope was found still wrapped around its neck. This rope had been used to strangle the man to death. This particular bog body was discovered in a bog located in Denmark on the Jutland Peninsula.
It is known that many of the bog bodies were placed there as a form of sacrifice. Some bog bodies have shown signs of torture and other practices such as augury.