The Moora Mystery: What Happened When a Girl Stepped into the Moor 2,500 Years Ago?
Back in 2000, peat harvesters near Uchte, Germany thought they had unearthed a buried tragedy. Mangled inside of the blades of a peat harvesting machine were pieces of human bone and tissue. They were far deeper in the bog than a body was expected to be found. Concerned thoughts immediately turned to the story of the disappearance of a teenaged girl from Germany in 1969.
Not far from where they stopped to remove the debris and preserve what they could, they later found a perfectly mummified hand. Forensic specialists were quickly on the scene, hoping to confirm that this was the case from almost 30 years prior. The reality of the find was more spectacular than they could have imagined.
The naked remains were identified by forensic scientists to be that of a female in her late teens - but they did not belong to any teenager from the current century. Radiocarbon dating showed the scientists that the hand and the bones belonged to a girl who lived over 2,500 years ago, at the tail end of the Iron Age - making her older than any other bog body found in Germany.
She was believed to have been between 16 -19 years of age at the time of her death. What she was doing in the bog is still widely speculated by professionals, but researchers have argued that it could have been anything from simple household chores to gathering bilberry - a plant known for its intoxicating properties and used for medicine. Some of the onsite researchers even referred to her as possibly being a witch.
Skeleton of the girl found in the bog near Uchte, Germany. (Niedersächsisches Landesamt für Denkmalpflege/CC B Y SA 3.0)
Called “Moora” for her discovery in the moor, the girl’s body was roughly hacked apart by the accident with the peat harvesting equipment, but scientists managed to mostly reassemble her remains. When she was found, Moora was the oldest and most complete skeleton from the Iron Age to be found north of the alps. Later bog mummies include the Bog Man from Denmark, the Yde Girl from the Netherlands, and others.
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The researchers discovered that Moora had suffered from seasonal malnutrition and had a curvature in her spine that possibly resulted from the weight of a benign tumor at the base of her neck. They also found an assortment of head injuries which were healed and ruled out as possible causes of death.
The case remains a nexus of questions that researchers cannot put a definite answer to yet. Why was Moora traveling unassisted so far out into the bog? (The location was deemed to have been a hazardous one to reach far from the stable river banks.) What caused her to fall into the bog and drown? Aside from old injuries, there was nothing that researchers could find that would implicate foul play. Most disturbingly, why was she found naked in her impromptu grave?
Two 3D face reconstructions of Moora: left by Kerstin Kreutz; right by Sabine Ohlrogge, based on the reconstructed skull in the middle. (Axel Hindemith/CC BY SA 3.0)
From the Bog to University
Moora’s hand was the only part of her body that was mummified, while the rest of her had been skeletonized. Her hand was well-preserved because of the anaerobic environment in which it was kept for so long. Without oxygen in the water, an ecosystem sustaining life cannot flourish and so no fish or shellfish were present to scavenge on human or animal remains. Thus, bogs are famous for preserving once living material in a spectacular condition.
Sphagnum is a genus of moss which grows in the bog water and is responsible for this phenomenon. Growing over plants, trees, and anything else in the water, the moss creates oxygen poor environments through rapid growth and cover. Sphagnum mosses also create an acidic environment around them as they absorb all the calcium and magnesium from the water and expel hydrogen. Considering this, the reason behind the lack of Moora’s clothing is revealed: the water is acidic and over time it would have caused cotton or wool fabric to be eaten away.
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The right hand of the bog body known as Moora. (Mull, G., Püschel, K., & Jopp, E.)
The Girl of the Moor is now housed at the Institute of Legal Medicine at the University of Hamburg-Eppendorf in Germany where scientists continue to research her life and death. Because she was found without personal belongings, jewelry, or other indications of a funeral, it is assumed that she was alive at the time she entered the bog.
Moora is no longer the oldest bog body that has been discovered. The Koelbjerb Woman from Denmark surpasses her date of death by almost six thousand years. Still, mysteries like Moora’s keep researchers in Germany and other parts of Northern Europe busy. The possibility of Moora’s death being accidental is still the most widely accepted theory, but until all forensic examinations are complete, other possible explanations continue.
Moora’s recovered body parts. Red parts were found in 2000 and blue parts were found in 2005 at Uchter Moor near Uchte, Lower Saxony, Germany. Dating to 764 -515 BC. (Bullenwächter/CC BY SA 3.0)
Top Image: A digital facial reconstruction of the girl of the Uchter Moor, also known as Moora. It was created by Ursula Wittwer-Backofen of the University of Freiburg. (Fair Use) and Uchter Moor. (Public Domain)
By Kayla Roy
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