Archaeology Magazine Archive

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The Girl of Uchter Moor (AP Photo/Niedersaechisches Landesamt Fuer Denkmalpflege)

In 2000, homicide detectives examined miscellaneous body parts—skin, hair, leg bones, a foot, fingernails, a rib cage—found by a peat cutter operating a backhoe in a bog in Uchte, Germany. Although they imagined the deceased may have been a victim of a sex crime because the body was naked, no leads emerged, the deceased wasn't identified, and the case went cold. Five years later, a hand was found in the same location and the police were called in again. Because the body parts had been located at a level well below the reach of modern peat cutting, the police realized the hand didn't belong to a modern victim. Eventually they found more than 100 body parts of a girl between 16 and 19 years old, radiocarbon dated to around 650 b.c. Unfortunately, she had been dismembered by the backhoe. But what was she doing deep in the middle of a huge, dark bog at a location she could only have reached by jumping across small islands made of heather and stunted trees? Wetland archaeologist and dig supervisor Alf Metzler thinks she could have been collecting bilberries, an intoxicating fruit known to have been used by early Germanic tribes, when she slipped and fell. "It's highly unlikely she was murdered," Metzler says. "If she had been strangled, stabbed, or her head had been smashed in, we'd see signs of it on the bones. It was most likely an accident."

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