Bog Bodies: Our Window into Ancient History

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My new book, Mona The Body in the Bog, is about the discovery of a female bog body in a peat bog in rural Ireland. Well, there’s way more to it than that, but you’ll have to read the book to learn more.

I became fascinated by these Iron Age bog bodies because of a program I saw on Nova, The Perfect Corpse. This documentary showed the exhumation and forensic testing involved on partial remains of two male bodies who were sacrificial killings in Ireland over 2,000 years ago.

The bodies are preserved by a bacteria which grows in sphagnum moss, which is primarily found growing in peatlands, or bogs. The soft tissue of the corpses remain after 2,000 years. In some cases even hair remains in tact.

Throughout Ireland and other parts of Europe bog bodies are rare discoveries. When one is discovered, usually by peat cutters, the window to the ancient past is opened with the assistance of science and forensic archaeology.

There is carbon dating tests to tell us how old the bog body is, in some cases if the bog body is wearing decorative ornamentation such as a brooch, that too can be tested to detect how old the metal is.

The most fascinating tests reveal, through examination of hair follicles, what the staple diet of the deceased person was. If it was mostly protein, then the season when the person was sacrificed was winter or spring. If it was mostly a diet of grains and protein, then it was probably summer or autumn.

Even the markings on the nails tell scientists what class within Celtic society the person was from. Striations on the nails would suggest hard labor, and nails without scratches would suggest higher class Celt.

I came up with the story after reading many, many books about Celtic Ireland, Celtic Women, matriarchal Societies, Warrior Societies and Celtic Mythology. But it was a statement from Rome in 2009 that prompted me to include a modern-day character in the story.

On March 17, 2009, to mark International Women’s Day, L’Osservatore Romano, the Vatican’s official newspaper said that the washing machine liberated women. It is just a statement, and because of it, I did include a washing machine in Mona The Body in the Bog, and in so doing, felt liberated.

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