Bog Bodies: See The Pre-Egyptian Mummies Made By Nature

Published October 11, 2017
Updated March 22, 2019

As much as 10,000 years old yet shockingly well-preserved, bog bodies like the Tollund Man are more incredible than any manmade mummy.

Borremose Man
Tollund Man
Yde Girl
Grauballe Man
Bog Bodies: See The Pre-Egyptian Mummies Made By Nature
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When two Danish brothers stumbled across a body while collecting peat, a soil-like material burned for fuel, in a bog outside of Silkeborg in 1950, they were terrified.

The two immediately called the police and alerted them that there had been a murder. While the corpse had clearly been tanned by the chemicals of the swamp, the body seemed only a few days old.

Furthermore, a boy from Copenhagen had disappeared in the region just a few days earlier, leading the boys, as well as authorities, to think the worst.

However, when police arrived and discovered that the body was found under over six feet of peat with no signs of recent digging, they quickly realized that the body was not a criminal matter, but a historic one.

After running radiological tests, archeologists determined the man had died over 2,000 years ago, between 375–210 BCE, well out of the jurisdiction of the police.

This body, later dubbed the "Tollund Man" after the village the brothers were from, was one of the best preserved of the bog mummies that had been discovered across Europe for hundreds of years.

The Tollund Man had a noose still hanging around his neck, and a pointed sheepskin hat on his head. Otherwise, he was completely naked. His body arrangement, with his eyes closed and the body placed in a kneeling position, suggests that he was likely a human sacrifice placed in the swamp after he was hanged.

"Bog bodies" is the name given to the many corpses discovered throughout Western Europe that were mummified and preserved by the highly acidic water, low temperature, and a lack of oxygen in peat bogs.

This unique environment can perfectly preserve the skin and internal organs of a body, as well as even their hair and fingernails.

These bodies date back to 8000 BCE, but most recovered are from the Iron Age when peat bogs covered much of Europe. Bog bodies have even been discovered dating up to World War I.

Thousands of bog bodies have been recovered. However, for hundreds of years, locals, believing the bodies were recent, reburied most of them in graveyards.

It was not until the 19th century that people realized the age of these bodies, and began documenting and collecting them.

Though they each have their own unique story, many of the bodies seem to have been human sacrifices or executed criminals. Many of the bodies recovered from the Iron Age show signs of being stabbed, bludgeoned, hanged or strangled, often while attempting to defend themselves.

Peat bogs held an important spiritual place in many Iron Age societies, and many of these are theorized to have been human sacrifices placed there to ensure a plentiful harvest. Many of these identified as being high status at the time of their death, from their manicured nails and good nutrition, are believed to have been kings or rulers sacrificed due to a poor harvest.

Bodies such as these have been found near hills used for kingship initiations.

Other bodies, like a 16th-century noblewoman found in an Irish bog, were likely placed there as they had killed themselves and therefore could not be buried in a Christian graveyard.

Though these disparate bodies have different stories, they provide a very tangible connection with our past, showing how much things have changed, and how little humans have, over the last couple thousand years.

After this look at bog bodies and the Tollund Man, see the screaming Guanajuato Mummies whose faces remain frozen in terror. Then, check out this 2,000-year-old Chinese woman who is one of the most well-preserved mummies in the world.

Gabe Paoletti
Gabe Paoletti is a New York City-based writer and a former Editorial Intern at All That's Interesting. He holds a Bachelor's in English from Fordham University.
John Kuroski
John Kuroski is the editorial director of All That's Interesting. He graduated from New York University with a degree in history, earning a place in the Phi Alpha Theta honor society for history students. An editor at All That's Interesting since 2015, his areas of interest include modern history and true crime.