NOVA Home Find out what's coming up on air Listing of previous NOVA Web sites NOVA's history Subscribe to the NOVA bulletin Lesson plans and more for teachers NOVA RSS feeds Tell us what you think Program transcripts Buy NOVA videos or DVDs Watch NOVA programs online Answers to frequently asked questions

Bog Bodies of the Iron Age

The Perfect Corpse homepage

Over the past few centuries, and likely before then, men harvesting peat in European bogs have struck upon remarkable and, to the peat cutters, no doubt frightening discoveries. More than a thousand bog bodies and skeletons have come to light, and scientists now have the means to study the remains in such detail that they can, in a sense, resurrect these ancient people. Drawing on the work of Dutch bog-body scholar Wijnand van der Sanden, the following map charts more than 80 important finds and includes details on 12 of the most fascinating.—Susan K. Lewis

Iron age map
Flower petal
Enlarge this image




Gallagh Man
400-200 B.C.

Found in County Galway, Ireland in 1821
He was discovered lying on his left side, draped in a skin cape. Beneath the cape he was naked. Whether he once wore linen clothes that have disappeared over time is unclear. He was anchored to the peat with two long wooden stakes, and around his neck was a band of willow rods likely used to strangle him. He was roughly 25 years old at the time.

Pollen Grains
Enlarge this image




Meenybraddan Woman
A.D. 1500-1600

Found in County Donegal, Ireland in 1978
The style of the woolen cloak in which she was wrapped dates this woman to the late 16th century, distinguishing her from the more common Iron Age bog bodies. She was in her late 20s or early 30s when she died. Given that she was interred in a peat bog, in what was likely an unconsecrated grave, she may have been a murder victim or a suicide.

Spiked ribbon seed
Enlarge this image




Oldcroghan Man
350-175 B.C.

Found in County Offaly, Ireland in 2003
Oldcroghan Man fits the classic profile of an Iron Age bog body. He died a gruesome death, suffering repeated cuts and stabs before he was dismembered. Experts debate whether he was a sacrifice to the gods, a criminal being punished, or perhaps both. His torso, the only part of him recovered, reveals that he was exceptionally tall for his time, standing roughly 6' 6".

Fig wasp
Enlarge this image




Lindow Man
100 B.C.-A.D. 100

Found near Manchester, England in 1984
Examined by more than 50 experts, Lindow Man is likely one of the most scrutinized corpses in the world. He was in his 20s and, unlike most bog bodies, wore a beard and moustache. He had mild arthritis but good teeth and well-manicured nails. His death was far worse than a simple execution: he was struck on the head, had his throat cut, and was throttled with a rope made of animal sinew, perhaps to increase the bleeding, before being thrown facedown into a watery bog.

Enlarge this image




Amcotts Moor Woman
A.D. 200-400

Found in Lincolnshire, England in 1747
Unearthed long before the modern era of scientific inquiry into and preservation of bog bodies, the only remnant of Amcotts Moor Woman is now her left shoe. The design of the leather shoe dates her to the late Roman Period in Europe. Her right shoe and hand were sent to the Royal Society in London soon after she was discovered, but like many bog-body finds before the 19th century, they have disappeared without a trace.

Enlarge this image




Yde Girl
100 B.C.-A.D. 50

Found in Drenthe, The Netherlands in 1897
A small percentage of bog bodies are children. Yde Girl appears to have been strangled and stabbed at the age of 16. Some experts believe she was selected for sacrifice in part because of her awkward gait and curved spine (CT scans revealed she had scoliosis). Other CT scans, of her skull, aided the reconstruction of her face. Her long fair hair was preserved in the peat, but on half of her head it had been cut off. Other bog bodies also had their hair cut when they were killed.

Enlarge this image




Weerdinge Men
100 B.C.-A.D. 50

Found in Drenthe, The Netherlands in 1904
They were long called the "Weerdinge couple" and thought to be a man and a woman. Experts now speculate these two men may have been brothers, lovers, or father and son. One of them suffered a large chest wound, and his intestines spilled out when he was laid in his grave. According to the Roman historian Strabo, some Iron Age Europeans tried to divine the future by "reading" a victim's entrails.

Enlarge this image




Rendswühren Man
100 B.C.-A.D. 100

Found near Kiel, Germany in 1871
The year Rendswühren Man was discovered, a self-taught German scholar named Johanna Mestorf—who coined the word Moorleiche (bog body)—published the first catalogue of such finds. She interpreted Rendswühren Man as a murder victim. He was 40 to 50 years old when he died, likely from a blow to his head. Near his body were the remnants of a woolen cloak and a skin cape. His caretakers in the 19th century smoked his body in order to preserve it.

Moth fly
Enlarge this image




Osterby Man
A.D. 1-100

Found near Osterby, Germany in 1948
Only his decapitated head was found, wrapped in a deerskin cape. He was likely killed by a blow to his left temple before he was decapitated. His hair, reddened by chemicals in the peat, is tied in an elaborate hairstyle called a Swabian knot. The Roman historian Tacitus, who lived in Osterby Man's era, describes the hairstyle as typical of the Suebi tribe of Germany.

Enlarge this image




Windeby Girl
A.D. 1-200

Found near Windeby, Germany in 1952
It's unclear exactly how she died, but given that she was merely 13 to 14 years old and that she was buried in a bog with a woolen band covering her eyes, it was likely from unnatural causes. Only five yards from her body the corpse of a man lay buried, and some experts suggest that the two were punished for an adulterous affair. Like the Yde Girl, Windeby Girl had part of her hair cut off at the time of her death.

Enlarge this image




Tollund Man
400-300 B.C.

Found in Aarhus, Denmark in 1950
He is renowned, even beloved, for the gentle expression on his impeccably preserved face. The noose around his neck makes clear that, like other Iron Age bog bodies, he was killed, but following the violent act he was carefully laid in a restful pose, like a sleeping child. Learn more about him in Tollund Man.

Enlarge this image




Grauballe Man
100 B.C.-A.D. 100

Found in Aarhus, Denmark in 1952
Peat cutters accidentally struck his head with their shovels. Knowing of Tollund Man and other finds in the region, they were less shocked than they might have been otherwise. Grauballe Man was carefully excavated under the supervision of archeologist and bogbody specialist P. V. Glob, and has become one of the most X-rayed and analyzed corpses in the world. Before his throat was cut, Grauballe Man ate a soup laced with an hallucinogenic fungus perhaps intended to induce a trance-like state in a ritual that included his sacrifice.

Back to top

The Perfect Corpse
America's Bog People

America's Bog People
Near Florida's Disney World, archeologists unearth an 8,000-year-old cemetery.

10 Ways to Make a Mummy

10 Ways to
Make a Mummy

See how peat bogs and other environments preserve corpses around the world.

Bog Bodies of the Iron Age

Bog Bodies
of the Iron Age

Examine a dozen spectacular finds on a bog-body map of Northwest Europe.

Tollund Man

Tollund Man
Meet the most famous bog body of all—and hear a Seamus Heaney poem about him.

Send Feedback Image Credits
NOVA Home Find out what's coming up on air Listing of previous NOVA Web sites NOVA's history Subscribe to the NOVA bulletin Lesson plans and more for teachers NOVA RSS feeds Tell us what you think Program transcripts Buy NOVA videos or DVDs Watch NOVA programs online Answers to frequently asked questions