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Irish Bog Bodies

By Imponderabilia

Irish Bog Bodies

[Photo by Paige]


Due to the very recent discovery of a new bog body in Co. Meath, Ireland, (which you can read about here on the Irish Times), I thought I'd do a quick post about these archaeological phenomena! 
About this latest discovery, the article states that "The National Museum of Ireland is to begin examining the remains of Ireland's latest "bog person" discovered at a Bord na Móna site in Co Meath last week. The headless body was found among a stack of peat by workers on Friday morning near Kinnegad.... The discovery comes just over a year after that of the "Cashel Man" remains from a bog in Co Laois, which were thought to be those of a sacrificial victim." (source)

Irish Bog Bodies

Clonycavan Man [Photo by Paige]


During my recent trip to Ireland this past summer with The College at Brockport Study Abroad program,  I was very excited to see the four bog bodies that are currently on display in the National Museum on Kildare Street in Dublin. I was able to snap a few pictures of them (sorry if they're a bit blurry), no flashes allowed! I just thought that with this blog, I'd do a little synthesis of the information available about the bog bodies, and my own experience seeing them at the National Museum. 
These ancient bodies (some thousands of years old), were naturally mummified by the acidic conditions of the peat bogs in which their remains were deposited. It is believed that these people were perhaps the victims (or volunteers) for Celtic ritual sacrifices. The preservation of these bodies is absolutely amazing - their skin has basically been turned into leather, so you can see their eyelashes, fingerprints, fingernails, even hairs in their noses. Irish Bog Bodies
These bodies are often discovered when the peat is being cut up to be sold (hence why some of them are missing arms, legs, torsos, or entire halves of their body). The peat cutting machines often chop them up a bit before they discover them within the bog. 
The lack of oxygen in the peat results in an environment perfect for the preservation of organic material (such as human flesh). Irish Bog BodiesOne of the more famous bog bodies I saw in the National Museum is referred to as the Clonycavan Man, discovered in Clonycavan, Ballivor, Co. Meath Ireland in 2003. His remains have been dated to approximately 2300 years ago, placing his death between 
392 BCE and 201 BCE. He was killed by a blow to the skull by a sharp object (probably an axe). One of the most notable features of this particular body is his mohawk-like hairstyle, with remnants of his hair gel still remaining (consisting of plant oils and pine resin).

"Clonycavan man was a young male no more than 5ft 2in tall (1.6m). Beneath his hair, which retains its unusual "raised" style, was a massive wound caused by heavy cutting object that smashed open his skull. Chemical analysis of the hair showed that Clonycavan man's diet was rich in vegetables in the months leading up to his death, suggesting he died in summer." (source)Irish Bog Bodies
 It is believed that this young man was likely ritually sacrificed and his remains placed in the peat bog (as was common with many sacrificial victims of Northern Europe). To the right is a reconstruction of what he might have looked like.

Irish Bog Bodies

[Photo by Paige]


Another notable bog body at the National Museum is referred to as the Old Croghan man, named after the site where he was discovered (Croghan Hill in Co. Offaly). It is believed that this man died between 362 BC and 175 BC, in his early twenties. His remains indicate that his cause of death was likely a stab wound to the chest. Although the head and lower body are missing, the preservation is impeccable. His perfectly manicured nails are visible, indicating that this man was not a menial laborer, but perhaps someone of high-ranking status. 
Irish Bog Bodies
"He was exceptionally tall for a man of this period, standing almost six and a half feet. Analysis of his hair and nails showed that he regularly ate meat, an expensive luxury. In contrast, his last supper was composed of cereals and buttermilk, which Kelly believes was a ritual meal. Around one bicep, he had a braided leather armband and a bronze amulet covered in decorative copper-alloy mounts" (source)

Irish Bog Bodies

[Photo by Paige]


Seeing the bog bodies at the National Museum in Ireland was one of the highlights of my experience there. And upon reading the article posted just this morning about the newest Irish bog body being discovered, I thought this would be a perfect time for a short blog about them! See "Further Reading" for more information about the bog bodies I discussed, as well as the many others that exist all over Europe. If you ever find yourself in Dublin, don't miss the National Museum bog body exhibit!

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