Bog men turn up well-groomed

Prehistoric bodies found in Ireland’s peat bogs reveal that although life in the Iron Age may have been nasty, brutish and short, people still found time for good grooming.

Bog bodies found in Ireland give clues to Iron Age lifestyle

One of the bodies found at Clonycavan near Dublin in 2003 had Mohawk-style hair, held in place with gel imported from abroad, scientists examining the bodies say. 

The other, unearthed in Oldcroghan by workmen digging a ditch, had perfectly-manicured fingernails. 

Rolly Read, head of conservation at the National Museum in Dublin, said, “The message I’m getting is that although they were living in a different time, a different culture, eating different things, living in a different way, people are people – they’re the same in their thinking.”

The bodies, believed to be 2,300-years-old, are the first of their kind to be found in Europe for 20 years.

Precious insights

Although Hundreds of bodies – preserved by the unique chemical composition of the peat – have been recovered from northern Europe’s wetlands over the last two centuries, Read says that the latest finds have yielded precious insights into Iron Age life because of further preservation techniques being used.
“We’ve been able to apply techniques that weren’t available back in 1984, so it’s a chance to actually look at aspects of Iron Age people that haven’t been explored before,” Read said.

The hair product used by Clonycavan Man was a gel made of plant oil and pine resin imported from southwestern France or Spain, showing trade between Ireland and southern Europe was taking place almost two-and-a-half millennia ago.

Puzzled over why the bodies ended up in peat bogs and why so many of them show signs of violent death, archaelogists have debated whether they were executed for crimes or ritually slain as human sacrifices.

Manicured fingernails, evidence of good diet and Clonycavan Man’s taste for imported cosmetics seem to indicate that many of those who ended up in the bogs were from the upper classes.

Appeasing gods

Eamonn Kelly, keeper of Irish antiquities at the National Museum of Ireland, has developed a new theory about the bodies based on his discovery that nearly all of the Irish examples were placed in the borders immediately surrounding royal land or on tribal boundaries.

“These people may have been hostages or deposed kings or candidates for kingship who have been sacrificed to ensure a successful reign for a new king and this was done as part of a kingship ritual and as a fertility offering to the gods,” he told Reuters.

“The king was held personally responsible for the success of the crops and so on. If he couldn’t guarantee the fertility of the land he risked being deposed,” he said.

Another theory, prompted by the writings of Roman historian Tacitus from around the same era, is that the perpetrators of “shameful crimes” were put into the bog in order to trap their souls in a watery limbo where the body did not rot.

Tanned to a mahogony sheen by acids in the peat, the bodies have been freeze-dried for long term preservation and are resting under glass in Ireland’s national museum.

Source: Reuters