The bog people : Iron-Age man preserved

by P. V. Glob

Paper Book, 2004



Call number

GN780.22 .D4G5513 2004


New York : New York Review Books, c2004.


From time to time workers in bogs throughout Europe accidentally expose the sunken bodies of people who died 2000 or more years ago. The bo g waters have kept the bodies from decay, sometimes even preserving the facial expression at the moment of death, and many of the bodies bear signs of violent ends. This book seeks to cast light on these Iron Age people, their lives, their religion, and the rituals they performed in unfrequented wood and groves.

User reviews

LibraryThing member PirateJenny
A classic in bog body genre.

Okay, there's no such thing as the bog body genre, but there should be!

This was probably one of the first books written on bog bodies, back in 1965. The beginning is quite good, with descriptions of how the bodies were found and how they were investigated and preserved.
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And lots of photos! The majority of the book is concerned with Danish bog bodies, though a number of German ones are mentioned also. (The author was Danish, so I think that's fair. Besides, at that time, Denmark had produced the largest number of bog bodies found.) However, I think it falls apart at the end, in which the author theorizes about why the bodies were there, and what the ropes around their necks meant and all that stuff. I found some of those theories to be laughable. (Mind you, I do understand that in forty years, I could be looking back at current bog body theory and wonder how I could have believed any of it.) One theory is that the people--their hands generally showing they were unused to manual labor--were sacrificed to the Earth Mother. The universal mother goddess worshipped all over the place. Er, um. I don't know much about Danish or Germanic Iron Age beliefs, but I'm pretty sure they had individual gods and goddesses they'd sacrifice to (I know the Celts did, and bodies of water often had their own individual goddess, as did each tribe). This theory comes from a description by Tacitus of a Germanic religious ceremony. The goddess would be brought out in a wagon, only the priest allowed to convey her wishes. Lots of sex with village men seemed to follow and she would be driven back to her temple. (Anyone more familiar with Tacitus, please feel free to elaborate--I haven't read even part of The Germania in about fifteen years.) Glob theorized that the priest was then consecrated to her by tying a rope around his neck and drowning him in the bog. The consecration was symbolized by this rope. The rope obviously represented the torc shown on all images of mother earth. Um. Why couldn't the rope symbolize strangling? Or why couldn't it have been a collar that was used to lead the victim into the bog? The all seem to have had long leads. And Glob himself mentions some more violent sacrifices. Windeby Girl, who had a broken leg (and her arm detached, but that could have happened after death) and part of her hair shaven off. A common punishment for adultery. But what led her to be buried in the bog? The Weerdinge Couple, who have been shown to be two men thanks to DNA testing. The bodies staked down so their spirits wouldn't rise. (Cool anecdote: a village had been troubled by a ghost of sorts--some even called it a vampire. The local priest knew his job was to get rid of it. He took a birch stake and wandered around on one of those mysterious hills that dot the landscape in a lot of Europe and then stuck it in at a particular spot. The village was troubled no more. Upon later excavation, a skeleton was found in the mound, and the birch stake had been stuck into him. I know it sounds really folklory, but it's also a fun story.)

Anyway, the Celts extended so far east at one point that I don't doubt they had rituals that influenced later groups and the bog body sacrifice may well be one of them. I do believe in the triple death theory--the number three was always so important. And I'm certainly not panning the idea that some of the sacrifices were holy people and/or people of rank. Some of the more deformed bodies point to that as well. Cause the deformed and the mad are closer to the gods--their infirmities gave them some special connection. Or so the theory goes. I like that one as well. I'm close to that one in a small way--the whole scoliosis thing. And it often seems that the divine touch would run in families--like some birth defects (like scoliosis).

I'm certainly not unhappy I read the book. It's not only a good look at the early science of bog bodies and the history of them (the first recorded bog body found was in 1740--who knows how often they were found before that) but a good look at the way theories evolve over the decades. On the whole, though, I prefer Miranda Green's Dying for the Gods, even if there aren't nearly so many pictures.
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LibraryThing member dylkit
I can't even remember the first time I picked up this book.. I hold Prof Glob responsible for my becoming an archaeologist. My husband holds him responsible for being dragged to museums throught Europe to see leathery dead people.
LibraryThing member SusanTahiti
My best friend and I both bought the hardback (a lot of money back then) and read this in high school, I am guessing it was the name of the author, the name of the book, the photo, and the idea in general. It was just unforgettable. I have two copies now because who could pass it up?
LibraryThing member JBD1
I read the NYRB reprint of this riveting account of the European "Bog People." Well written, and the narrative is superbly complemented by the photographs.
LibraryThing member ToddSherman
“ . . . when she has had her fill of the society of mortals.”

I meant this to be a break from the absurd, horror, and roman-era literature I’d been researching for upcoming projects. Well, true to form, this turned out not to be a respite from the grind, exactly, but added more fuel to my
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ever-burning fire for invention. Forever restless, forever kicking those legs under the desk, never giving the brain enough time to drift into twilight’s murk. Maybe I’m just bored with inactivity.

So, it served as a treasure trove for the third story in my upcoming short story collection—literally four published projects out. I know, I know, restless brain syndrome. That’s why I drink at the beginning of every writing session; it slows me down, allows me to punch into the mindstream with the least amount of obstruction. Or maybe I’m just trying to preserve my own body in beer and bog-watered imagination. Hopefully no one tries to bury me under layers of peat when they find me passed out on the office room floor . . .

The ingenuity of humans always astounds me—whether from the Late Iron Age or present-day Silicon Valley; through torturous ritual to mind-numbing entertainment; under duress of invented deities who require murderous propitiation and over grief from failed Call of Duty missions. We humans seem tireless at creating mountains out of peat bogs and take offense at any one else’s lack of appreciation. “You’ve pissed off Nerthus. Throw a rope around the fucker’s neck and hang him from the old oak tree.” “Step on the crucifix.” “That goddamn Harrier’s wrecking my Netflix and chill.” “I want to be the first insect politician.” “My torc’s heavier than your torc.” “Showcase what's important to you by adding photos, pages, groups and more to your featured section on your public profile.”

What’s any of this got to do with the book? Nothing and everything. I’d imagine the first people to dredge up those preserved humans freaked the hell out. They’d called the authorities. Hints at recent murder and an unsurprising lack of belief in murder that could’ve been pickled and presented two thousand years later in sharp detail. The hair on the chin, the weave in fabric, the coiled pig tails on the top of the head, the fingerprints . . . down to the eyelashes, millennia apart, those past humans were once very much like us—only the tools were more primitive. The designs and employ and results were more similar than maybe we’d care to recognize.

Murder. Horror. Ceremony. Combs made of horn. Gods carved of wood. Stabbed hearts and staked bodies. All that invention suspended in time—throughout time—time after time after time. The echoes, like the frozen screams on a crushed bog body, rebound. That history will not be denied. No matter how deep you’ve dug and planted that horror.
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Original language


Original publication date


Physical description

xiii, 200 p.; 23 cm


1590170903 / 9781590170908



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