Thanks to the unusual physical and biochemical composition of certain peat bogs which feature factors as highly acidic water, general low temperatures and an oxygen-free environment, hundreds of naturally mummified human remains have been discovered in such places over the past century. Most of these bog bodies, as they are called, were found in Northern Europe – mainly in Denmark, Germany, Holland, Ireland and Britain – and most of them date from the Iron Age, a time when peat bogs covered large areas of those regions. Today, there are around 50 bog bodies which remained intact, and some of them can be seen in the museums where they are displayed.
One lesser known bog body which is not displayed, is that of the Kayhausen Boy, discovered by accident in 1922 in a peat bog in Lower Saxony, Germany. The Kayhausen Boy was between seven and ten years old when he died around 400-300 BC and he isone of the few ‘bog children’ to ever be found. Like many other bog bodies from the Iron Age, the Kayhausen Boy was most likely a sacrificial victim, ritually murdered and thrown in the bog as an offering to the gods.
An Unwilling Sacrifice
The young ‘offering’ had his arms tied tightly behind his back with strips of clothing and his feet bound with a calfskin cloak. Another longer strip of woolen fabric was also coiled around the boy’s neck, passed between his legs and back up to his neck where it was tied to the noose. Closer examination of the Kayhausen Boy revealed that he was stabbed multiple times in the neck and in his left arm. This suggests that he was not a willing sacrifice (like other bog bodies are reported to be), but tried to defend himself raising his arm.
His resistance is probably the reason for which he was hogtied before being stabbed three more times in the throat. A more recent analysis of the body identified the weapon used to kill the child as a short-bladed dagger (with a 4 cm blade). It was also discovered that the Kayhausen Boy suffered from a hip infection that rendered him unable to walk by himself. Moreover, his tibia was striped with Harris lines, an indication malnutrition and disease. This fact coupled with the relatively high number of bog bodies afflicted by physical deformities prompted some scholars to propose that the disabled were seen as not only burdens to society, but also as bringers of ill-luck, hence making excellent candidates for human sacrifice.
Consulted Works and Sources:
- Sanders, K. (2009). Bodies in the Bog and the Archaeological Imagination. The University of Chicago Press.
- Deem, J. M. (1998). Bodies from the Bog. Houghton Mifflin Company Boston.
- Aldhouse-Green, M. J. (2002). Dying for the Gods: Human Sacrifice in Iron Age & Roman Europe. Tempus Publishing.
- French, K. C. (6 August 2015). The Curious Case of the Bog Bodies. Why do so many corpses found in Europe’s peat bogs show signs of violent death? NautilusThink Inc. Retrieved 11 July 2017.