The brutality of prehistoric life revealed by corpses in Europe
Subscribe to CNN’s Wonder Theory science newsletter. Explore the universe with news of fascinating discoveries, scientific advances and more.
In 1984, a peat cutter discovered human remains in a swamp in Cheshire, England. They belonged to a man who brutally died some 2,100 years ago before being placed in a swamp — an autopsy of his well-preserved mummy revealed head injuries, possibly stab wounds, broken neck. Torsion tendon found still wrapped around his neck could also be a garotte.
Now in the British Museum in London, the remains of the Lindow . Man are probably the best known of the more than 2,000 corpses in Europe. These are mummies and skeletons found in the peatlands and swamps of Ireland, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, Germany, Scandinavia, Poland and other parts of Eastern Europe.
The bodies – often delicately preserved in the cool, acidic conditions and organic compounds of the marsh – provide an interesting snapshot of the past. Archaeologists study skins, bones, clothing, furniture and sometimes even their last meal. Now, researchers have performed the first comprehensive survey of corpses in swamps – a burial tradition they believe has spanned 7,000 years – to build a more complete picture of the body. this phenomenon.
“We shouldn’t just focus on a few spectacular finds. Roy van Beek, an assistant professor at Wageningen University in the Netherlands and a co-author of the study, says sometimes what’s really important for archaeologists is miniaturization.
“Sometimes you have to be really careful not to jump to conclusions or draw conclusions too quickly, based on only a very limited number of sites.”
Van Beek and his colleagues collated data on 1,000 bog bodies found at 266 different locations, uncovering intriguing findings published this week in the journal Antiquity.
While swamps can be dangerous places that make it easy to get lost, meaning that some of the bodies in swamps are likely those of those who died by accident, the team found that many deaths were caused by intentionally — and brutally, with corpses discarded or placed in swamps after death.
“In many cases, it is no coincidence that these people end up in these quagmire. Very often, violence is what emerges,” van Beek said.
The team was able to determine the cause of death of 57 individuals and in 45 cases were related to violence. The highest number of violent deaths occurred in two time frames: from 5200 BC to 2800 BC and 1000 BC to 1100 AD.
Bone arrowheads were found in the skull and sternum of the Porsmose Man, a bog body found in Denmark. Similarly, Tollund Man, also found in a peatland in Denmark, was hanged. Some historians believe he may have been a human sacrifice.
Van Beek explains: “People have always tended to interpret most of these as ritual sacrifices – that people are intentionally killed as sacrifices to higher forces.
While ritual violence and human sacrifice occurred, van Beek said there could be many other explanations for how the bodies ended up in the quagmire.
“They may have been robbed and killed in some kind of conflict. Another category could be individuals who have crossed some kind of social boundary – maybe they are executed criminals or people who have committed suicide or committed adultery.”
The study divided swamp bodies into three categories: swamp mummies, the most famous of which were unearthed with skin, soft tissue, and hair intact; swamp skeleton, complete body but only bones; and partial remains of a swamp mummy or skeleton.
Swamp mummies are often found in raised marshes – discrete masses of wet soil that rise several feet above the surrounding area, rather than the sweeping swamp that covers large areas. Plant organic compounds such as Sphagnum moss, found in naturally acidic peat bogs, can preserve human tissue. In more alkaline wetlands such as swamps, only the bones tend to be preserved.
“The survival of human tissue also depends on the rate of immersion in water, the temperature and time of year, and the presence of insects and microorganisms within,” the study said.
Examination of the three types of bodies in the swamp revealed that burying bodies in the swamps is an ingrained tradition spanning thousands of years. The phenomenon seems to have originated in southern Scandinavia about 7,000 years ago and gradually spread throughout northern Europe.
The youngest finds, from Ireland and Scotland, suggest that the tradition continued into the Middle Ages and early modern times. The Iron Age and Roman era, from 1200 BC to about 500 AD, are generally considered to be the peak periods of marsh object phenomena.
While most sites have only one dead body, it’s not uncommon to find bog body hotspots where the remains of multiple people have been discovered, sometimes accompanied by valuables. A special site is Alken Enge near Skanderborg, Denmark, which includes more than 380 individuals killed in violent conflict and buried in wetlands with weapons nearly 2,000 years ago.
“These bogs are generally known for their natural quality… and high biodiversity. They are places where special species of plants and animals live, and they are very important carbon stores that help protect against climate change,” van Beek said.
“But if you look at this kind of research, we can say that they are also extremely valuable cultural repositories, providing really high quality evidence of human behavior in many natural environments. millennium.”