The New York TimesThe New York Times

What the ancient bog bodies knew

By Franz Lidz

31 Jan 2023 · 6 min read

Editor's Note

More than 1,000 "bog bodies" have been found over time in the swamps of northern Europe, some of them "arrestingly lifelike." It's part of a burial tradition that spans 7,000 years, reports The NYT.

When Roy van Beek was a teenager in the Netherlands in the early 1990s, he made a field trip to a local museum to see an exhibit of bog bodies: ancient human remains, both skeletal and naturally mummified, interred in the wetlands and spongy turf of northern Europe. He recalled one cadaver on display that was remarkably intact and oddly disorienting. The contorted body of a female about his age, roughly 4 feet 6 inches tall, who had lived in the first century A.D. “She had been left in a shallow mire south of the modern-day village of Yde,” said van Beek, now an archaeologist at Wageningen University & Research. Her skin had been tanned in the dark tea of the bog.

The Yde Girl, as she became known, was unearthed in 1897 by peat diggers so spooked by their gruesome discovery that they reportedly chorused “I hope the Devil gets the man that dug this hole” and fled the scene. The corpse was wearing a much-darned woolen cloak, which concealed a stab wound near her collarbone. A 7-foot-long strip of cloth, perhaps a waistband, was wound around her neck three times and its slipknot indented below her left ear. “The cloth was probably used to strangle her,” van Beek said. Most of the bog mummies that have turned up also show signs of multiple traumatic injuries and are presumed to be murder victims.

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