By now, it must be abundantly clear just how interested I am in Europe’s bog bodies. With every new discovery pertaining to these taphonomic phenomena, I try to post an article and share some of my previous posts about them. Just today, an article came out on BBC News titled “World’s oldest bog body hints at violent past.” The ‘world’s oldest bog body’ refers of course to the Cashel Man, who just this year was in fact discovered to be the oldest example in Europe of a body preserved by peat. I posted an article in August that discussed this historic discovery – you can read about the origins of the story here. I also post often about my experience in the National Museum of Ireland in Dublin, where I saw the Bog Bodies exhibit last summer and was entirely impressed – it was absolutely fascinating, and presented in a very striking way. You can see a sneak peak of that exhibit here.
Below is an excerpt from the most recent article on BBC News:
“Cashel Man has had the weight of the world on his shoulders, quite literally, for 4,000 years. Compressed by the peat that has preserved his remains, he looks like a squashed, dark leather holdall. Apart, that is, from one forlorn arm that stretches out and upward and tells us something of the deliberate and extremely violent death that he suffered 500 years before Tutankhamen was born.
“It does look like mangled peat at first,” says researcher Carol Smith. “But then you can see the pores on the skin and it takes on a very human aspect quite quickly.” Carol starts to spray the body with non-ionised water. This prevents it deteriorating when exposed to room temperatures. As we peer at the glistening bog-tanned body, we can see small, dark hairs on the skin, and a trail of vertebrae along his back.
Powers of peatExperts say that the remains of Cashel Man are extremely well preserved for his age. Radiocarbon dating suggests that he is the earliest bog body with intact skin known anywhere in the world. He is from the early Bronze Age in Ireland about 4,000 years ago. Bog bodies with internal organs preserved have cropped up in many countries including Denmark, the Netherlands, Germany, Scotland and Spain. But in Ireland, with its flat central, peaty plain, they have been particularly plentiful.
In the past 10 years, there have been two other significant finds, in varying states of decay. Both Clonycavan Man and Old Croghan Man, who were discovered in 2003, were violently killed but the preservative powers of the bog have allowed science to piece together their stories.
“The bog is an amazing place,” says Isabella Mulhall, who co-ordinates the bog bodies research project at the museum. “It is basically an anaerobic environment and the oxygen that bacteria feed off is not present, and therefore decomposition does not occur.” The process of preservation though is complicated, involving several factors including Sphagnum moss, which helps extract calcium from the bones of buried bodies.
Another critical element is acidity. “The pH levels vary in bogs and in some cases you may not get the bog mummy; you may get a bog skeleton,” says Isabella Mulhall.
“Even within a site, you may have a body partially mummified and the lower half could be skeletonised.” While the preservation offered by the bog gives scientists huge amounts on information on the diet, living conditions, background and lifestyle of the bodies, there is no such thing as a free lunch. The bog destroys the DNA, depriving researchers of genetic information and making it very difficult for Irish people to claim descent from these ancients.”
You can read the full article here.
Also, below is an awesome timeline that I pulled from the BBC article – super helpful for putting these bodies into their contextual historical period.