A publication of the Archaeological Institute of America
Bodies of the Bogs
December 10, 1997
Updated May 2010
Over the past centuries, remains of many hundreds of people—men, women, and children—have come to light during peat cutting activities in northwestern Europe, especially in Ireland, Great Britain, the Netherlands, northern Germany, and Denmark. These are the "bog bodies." The individual bog bodies show a great degree of variation in their state of preservation, from skeletons, to well-preserved complete bodies, to isolated heads and limbs. They range in date from 8000 B.C. to the early medieval period. Most date from the centuries around the beginning of our era. We do not know exactly how many bog bodies have been found—many have disappeared since their discovery.
Many people find it hard to imagine that the dark brown bog bodies were once human beings of flesh and blood who lived in timber houses, brought up children, looked after their cattle, grew crops, made clothes, prepared meals, and manufactured tools. Facial reconstructions and remains of their hair and clothing give us an idea of how they looked during life.
No one knows how these people ended up in the bogs, but it seems that most of the bodies are not the remains of unlucky people who fell in after losing their way. According to classical authors, the Roman Iron Age people of northern Europe offered human sacrifices and executed people as punishment for crimes or perceived social imperfections. Many of those found in the bogs died violent deaths.
Wijnand van der Sanden, a government archaeologist for Drenthe Province, the Netherlands, is one of the foremost authorities on bog bodies. His book, Through Nature to Eternity: The Bog People of Northwest Europe, was published as an accompaniment to an exhibition he put together in 1996 at Silkeborg Museum, in Silkeborg, Denmark. The exhibition was the first time almost all of the bog bodies of northwestern Europe were gathered together in one place. Many of the following bog bodies were featured in the exhibition.