Archaeology Magazine Archive

A publication of the Archaeological Institute of America

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Back to the Bog Volume 58 Number 1, January/February 2005
by Eric A. Powell

Dedicated to titles that are hard to find or long out of print, the New York Review of Books' Classics Series generally appeals to fusty bookworms who relish works like the obscure late novels of Henry James. But the series now throws ancient history enthusiasts a particularly tasty bone with the reissue of the late Danish archaeologist P.V. Glob's classic The Bog People: Iron-Age Man Preserved (New York: New York Review of Books, 2004; $14.95). Glob, the longtime director of the National Museum in Copenhagen who was on call when some of the most spectacular bog discoveries were made, wrote his enthusiastic account in the 1960s. The English translation was a bestseller at the time. Filled with plenty of grisly black-and-white photographs and written in a breezy style that never condescends, it deserves a second life.

Outfitted with a new introduction by archaeologists Elizabeth and Paul Barber that delves into the chemistry of bog mummification, Bog People opens on a spring day in 1950 when Glob first met Tollund Man, perhaps the best-known Danish bog body. Like so many others, Tollund Man was discovered by farmers cutting peat from a bog for fuel. Strangled with a leather rope, he had what Glob calls "the best preserved human have survived from antiquity," the Iron Age equivalent of five o'clock shadow, and the remains of unappetizing barley gruel in his stomach. These are the kinds of morbid details that make Glob's account so gripping. But despite the gruesomely precise descriptions of how the bog people were decapitated, strangled, tortured, or drowned, it's Glob's meticulous re-creation of their Iron Age world, and his obvious affection for its people, that ultimately makes this a classic of archaeological literature.

Eric A. Powell is managing editor of ARCHAEOLOGY.