For centuries, the peat-cutting of bogs in northwestern Europe has turned up strangely preserved human remains, but it wasn’t until the 19th century that we realised these bodies actually date back to prehistoric times. Most date back to the Iron Age, around 800 BC to 200 AD, but some are from as recent as 1000 AD—and despite their age, the bodies retain their skin, internal organs, and even their clothes. This natural mummification is a result of the highly acidic chemistry of peat bogs, creating remarkable conditions for preservation. The acidic, low-temperature, oxygen-poor environment effectively immobilises bacteria activity and hinders decomposition—the pH level of the water is similar to vinegar, so it almost pickles the bodies. The process of preservation has been described as “slow-cooking”, as it severely tans the bodies to dark brown. However, when they’re exposed to normal atmosphere, they rapidly begin to decompose—many specimens have been lost this way. Some of these bodies may have ended up in the bogs by unluckily losing their way and falling in, but most show signs of trauma and torture, supporting the idea that they were execution victims or ritual human sacrifices who suffered violent deaths.
(Image Credit: Robert Clark)