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Ancient bog body found in Ireland

Ancient bog body found in Ireland may be Iron Age sacrifice


Archaeologists in Ireland made an amazing discovery this week when they unearthed another ancient bog body in County Meath, adding to the collection of ancient human remains, some incredibly well-preserved, which have been pulled from the bog.  Studies on previous Iron Age bog bodies have shown evidence of sacrifice, and the latest discovery may be yet another victim.

According to the Irish Times, the human remains, which consist of adult leg and foot bones and flesh, were found by Bord Na Móna workers at Rossan Bog close to the Westmeath border in Co Meath on Saturday. The finding was made close to where another bog body, now known as ‘Moydrum Man’, was found in December 2012, which was dated to between 700 and 400 BC. Most bog bodies date back to between 2,000 and 4,000 years old.

National Museum of Ireland Director Raghnall Ó Floinn welcomed the new discovery and said, “every new find helps to bring us closer to understanding the lives and belief systems of our ancestors.”

Bog bodies provide an incredible window into our ancient past. The remains are usually extremely well-preserved thanks to the acidic, oxygen-free conditions in the peat bogs, which keeps organic material intact. One of the more phenomenal discoveries was Tollund Man, a 4 th century man found in Denmark, whose face is as preserved as the day he died. The look upon his face is calm and peaceful, as though looking upon a sleeping man. Like many others, Tollund Man had been sacrificed as part of an Iron Age ritual.

The well-preserved face of Tollund Man

The well-preserved face of Tollund Man. Image source: Wikipedia

Over the past centuries, the remains of more than 500 men, women, and children have been unearthed during peat cutting activities in north-western Europe, especially in Ireland, Great Britain, the Netherlands, northern Germany, and Denmark. The majority date back to between 800 BC and 200 AD. No one knows for sure who these people were and how they ended up in the bogs, but it seems that most bodies are not just the remains of unlucky people who fell in after losing their way as many of them display signs of violent deaths.

Funerary customs of the time and region involved cremation of the bodies, so the fact that some were found intentionally placed in the peat bog, and were often accompanied by votive items, suggest that these were not normal burials and may indicate sacrifice. For instance, Tollund Man was found with a noose still around his neck but with no other injuries and it appears he had been carefully placed in the bog – his eyes and mouth had been closed and his body placed in a sleeping position – something that wouldn’t have happened if he were a common criminal.

Archaeologists have acknowledged that, while research provides new insights into bog bodies, there are still many more questions than answers. As Lotte Hedeager, an expert in Iron Age archaeology at the University of Oslo in Norway, said: "We will never be able to uncover the perception of life and death of those individuals 2,000 years ago. That remains a true secret of the bogs."

Experts from the National Museum of Ireland are currently undertaking radiocarbon dating and other testing of the newly discovered remains to determine its age and other characteristics of the individual.

Featured image: Photo issued by the National Museum of Ireland of a bog body which archaeologists at the National Museum of Ireland dug up in Rossan bog in Meath, close to the border with Westmeath. Photograph: National Museum of Ireland

By April Holloway



angieblackmon's picture

I'm with Ron....either I've been binge watching wayyyyyyyyyyyy too much Criminal Minds, or these guys could have simply been murdered and disposed of. The article even says the main custom at the time was if you wanted to get away with killing someone, a bog would be a great place to hid the body...but anyone out there thinking this sounds like a good plan, beware, the bog is obviously preserving them quite well!

love, light and blessings


The reason the archaeologists won't give up this idea is because they believe it to be true: The weight of evidence is clear that in Celtic lands with written tradition i.e. the Dindshenchas, the sacrifices were linked to the fate of the land under the king's overlordship, and were conducted at Samhain. Whilst British examples such as Lindow 2 are conjectural they do follow the same pattern. My money is on the truth of this.

I really wish that archaeologists would give up the idea that these people were "sacrifices". I have personally seen some of the most celebrated bodies in a touring exhibition and have read some of the classic texts on the subject and the idea of human sacrifices does not hold water for many reasons.

The bodies are found centuries after their deaths in remote areas where bogs are located. They are the ideal places to hide murder victims.

They are dispatched in different ways which do not indicate a continuous tradition which would be apparent if they were really sacrifices to the gods.

No legends or myths which have come down to us, either through the Celts or the Germanic tribes which have tales of human sacrifice as the Aztecs did.

The stories which the Romans told of human sacrifice by the Gauls and Celts were used as propaganda to make their enemies look like "barbarians". (I think the Romans were worse, with their blood sports in the Colosseum).

The victims were of many different ages and social statuses, meaning that there was no logical pattern to the deaths.

The deaths time span is many generations long over many cultures, precluding the idea of a continuous sacrificial tradition. Were it otherwise, then we would discover hundreds and hundreds more bodies coming from this immense span of time. There are too few bodies for such a long period of time for them to be sacrifices.

The original archaeologists who discovered the earliest bog people sites derived the idea that bog people were human sacrifices from Sir James Frazier's book "The Golden Bough", published in the 19th century. It is the only place where there is "evidence" of human sacrifices in the tales he collected and that evidence has largely been discredited. Most of the tales in his book are found only in his book, which should make people question the rest. Especially scholars.

Given all of these facts, there can only be one strong reason why they were killed: they were murdered and their bodies dumped in remote bogs by their killers.

rbflooringinstall's picture

It still blows my mind how well preserved some of them are.

Peace and Love,


aprilholloway's picture


April Holloway is a Co-Owner, Editor and Writer of Ancient Origins. For privacy reasons, she has previously written on Ancient Origins under the pen name April Holloway, but is now choosing to use her real name, Joanna Gillan.

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