‘Bog mummies’ had mysterious deaths in Europe — until new study revealed answers

GENE J. PUSKAR/ASSOCIATED PRESS

Thousands of well-preserved, ancient bodies have been discovered in Europe’s peat bogs, leading many to wonder how these early humans met their fate. Now, the first-ever comprehensive study of the remains has revealed long-awaited answers.

Over 1,000 bodies were analyzed from sites across the U.K., Ireland, Scandinavia, the Netherlands, Germany, Poland and the Baltic States, according to the study published in the journal Antiquity on Jan. 10.

The remains, which date from as far back as 9000 B.C., were found in varying degrees of decomposition. Some are remarkably undamaged, containing soft tissue and clumps of hair, while others are only skeletons, the study said. The bogs, acidic and oxygen-deprived wetlands, are ideal environments for preserving organic material.

Given the passage of time, a cause of death could not be determined for many of the bodies, but experts managed to establish an explanation for 57 cases.

Of these cases, violence was involved nearly 80% of the time, researchers wrote, adding that the vast majority of bodies were intentionally deposited into the bogs.

However, researchers don’t know whether the violence was a result of armed conflicts, such as raids, or if it was associated with pagan rituals. Some exceptions were made for bodies subject to “overkill,” or “excessive violence,” which were definitively categorized by researchers as ritualistic offerings.

Other causes of death were far less common. Six of the deaths resulted from suicides while accidents, including drownings, claimed the lives of four others.

The vast majority of bodies were found alone, according to researchers, with the exception of a site in Denmark where 380 people were killed in a violent conflict.

In addition, adults between age 18 and 25 were overly represented among the bodies, though older adults and children of various ages were also present.

While further questions remain, the study confirms that Europeans were intentionally depositing their dead in bogs between the “Early Neolithic and early modern times” and that many of the bodies placed there came to a violent end.

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