English Heritage news release, 13 May 2003
ENGLISH HERITAGE BUYS SITE OF BOXGROVE MAN
Aggregates Levy Fund Secures Future of 500,000 Year Old Landscape
The site at Boxgrove, near Chichester in Sussex, where Britain's oldest
human remains were discovered, has been saved for the nation. The former
quarry site has possibly taught us more than anywhere else about how people
lived half a million years ago.
With £100,000 grant from the Aggregates Levy Sustainability Fund (ALSF),
English Heritage has bought the 20 acre site and, in collaboration with
Hanson Aggregates, West Sussex County Council and University College London,
is preparing to restore it and plan for its future management and use.
There are hopes that Boxgrove will eventually become a major centre of
education, research and archaeological training.
It is nine years since the astonishing news broke that the leg-bone of an
enormously strong human ancestor who lived 500,000 years ago had been
uncovered during excavations at the quarry. This proved to belong to a
hominid species called Homo heidelbergensis who inhabited parts of Europe
before the onset of the Anglian Ice Age and was probably an ancestor of the
Neanderthals. Two teeth (from another individual) were also found, as well
as the world's oldest antler tools. Hundreds of hand-axes and flake tools
lay where they had been put aside thousands of years ago. The finds were
not just important in themselves but because they were found on the largest
area of any undisturbed Lower Palaeolithic land surface discovered in
Britain, where the Boxgrove hominids hunted, butchered and processed the
remains of large mammals such as horse, rhinoceros, bison and large deer.
Archaeologists and scientists were able to reconstruct a whole landscape and
a hominid way of life, revealing that these people were sufficiently
advanced to be able to plan activities and to work together in groups. They
gathered at a water hole on a raised beach that had formed at the base of a
cliff, 12 km north of the present shoreline. Though the hominids shared the
water hole with lions, panthers, hyaenas and wolves, they managed to secure
their kills and to butcher them completely, even smashing the stripped bones
for the marrow.
David Miles, Chief Archaeologist at English Heritage, said: "It was vitally
important for us to buy this unique site with Aggregates Levy funding
because there was no other way of safeguarding it. We were unable to
protect the large area which still survives in the normal way by having it
designated a Scheduled Ancient Monument because it does not fall into any of
the categories covered by the relevant legislation. Now Boxgrove, with its
unrivalled potential for telling us about our distant past, will be
available to future generations."
For Mark Roberts, who led the excavations at the site for many years and is
the Director of Boxgrove Projects, the purchase of the site and the plans
for its restoration and for further archaeology are steps on the way to
realising a dream.
Mr Roberts, Principal Research Fellow at UCL Institute of Archaeology, said:
"With the approval of West Sussex County Council we hope to start a
restoration programme in the quarry this summer. This will entail securing
the site and clearing it of scrub, reducing some of the sheer slopes of the
quarry and partially back-filling the central area, using only existing
material. Further research excavations, which are likely to reveal more
astonishing finds, can then take place."
Though Hanson ceased gravel and sand extraction at the quarries in 1993, the
company has played a large part in securing the site for English Heritage
and setting up the restoration programme. These earthworks will be carried
out by Sussex based earthmoving contractors F L Gamble and Sons.
Bob Smith, natural resources manager of Hanson Aggregates, said: "We have
links with the Boxgrove site going back to the 1970s when quarrying first
started here and we have enjoyed a close working relationship with English
Heritage. The increasing number of archaeological treasures unearthed every
year at our sites highlights the important part that responsible quarrying
companies like Hanson have to play in initiating and supporting
In the short term UCL, in conjunction with the local authority and English
Heritage, will draw up a project to explore all the potential ways of
managing and using the site. Key to this is education -all concerned in the
Boxgrove Project want to bring the results of this internationally important
work to as wide an audience as possible. This could give rise next year to a
travelling exhibition and books for a general rather than a specialist
Sir Derek Roberts, Provost and President of UCL, said: "The acquisition and
management of this archaeological site is of great significance to the UK
and the world of scholarship. I am confident that my colleagues in UCL's
Institute of Archaeology will both contribute to, and benefit from, this
More far-reaching plans depend on the amount of funding available but might
include a base for visitors, links with museums, all kinds of publication
(including a website) and the public being able to take part in the
Lieutenant Colonel Tex Pemberton, West Sussex County Council Cabinet Member
for Strategic Environmental Services, said: "I am absolutely delighted this
important site has been saved for the nation. The county council will play
a full role in helping English Heritage achieve its aim of making Boxgrove a
major centre of education, research and archaeological training."
Images are available on the Press Association's Picselect site on
www.papicselect.com in the English Heritage folder under Boxgrove.
The ALSF was set up last year to provide a wide range of benefits to
communities affected by gravel extraction. English Heritage, The
Countryside Agency and English Nature, in consultation with local
organisations and the aggregates industry, distribute the funds.
The Boxgrove Project is running a mapping project to trace the Boxgrove
sediments away from the main site. For more information go to the Project's
website at http://www.ucl.ac.uk/boxgrove/
Boxgrove is a Middle Pleistocene site in West Sussex, England. Since the early 1980's a number of localities within the gravel quarrys at Boxgrove have provided detailed insights into the life and palaeoecology of the earliest colonisers of Northern Europe.
At one locality, designated Q1/B, a series of fresh water deposits preserved the remains of butchered animal bones alongside large quantities of flint tools and waste flakes. This site, which is currently under analysis, appears to have been an area regularly exploited by hominids. A wide range of herbivores including rhinoceros, horse and red deer were attracted to the water hole, making it an excellent location for intercepting game. Many of the animal bones exhibit cut marks from the flint tools used to butcher the carcasses.
Since 1982 research at the Boxgrove gravel pits in Southern England has been providing evidence for the behaviour and palaeoecology of Middle Pleistocene hominids. Over 90 excavation areas have been investigated during the course of the Boxgrove Project, many producing exceptionally preserved scatters of flint artifacts and mammalian fauna. This unique record is allowing aspects of hominid life including anatomy, tool manufacture, butchery and landuse to be studied. Through the clickable image below the latest results of this analysis can be found.
In 1993 a human tibia was found at Boxgrove, from a sediment overlying freshwater deposits at Q1/B. In 1996 further hominid remains were found; two incisor teeth from a single individual recovered from the lower freshwater deposits at the site. These three finds now join the Swanscombe skull fragments and teeth from the Pontnewydd cave as the only pre-anatomically modern human remains from the British Isles. Undoubtedly, further hominid finds will be made at Boxgrove and other British sites. Until then the study of the Boxgrove finds alongside contemporary remains in Europe and Africa will provide information on the lifestyle and adaptive significance of these early European colonisers.
The tibia (shin bone) is so far the only post-cranial element of an Archaic Homo Sapiens to have been found in northern Europe. It is remarkably long (see right) and came from an adult individual who stood well over 1.8m tall. It is also extremely robust with an overall thickness comparable to that exhibited by the later Neanderthals. Overall the bone suggests that Boxgrove hominids were quite massively built, combining both height and muscular strength. This physique may have been used to great effect by the hominids in hunting and direct competition with other carnivores for carcasses.
However, the tibia demonstrates that hominids were not always top of the food chain at Boxgrove. Both articular ends of this tibia have been gnawed by a carnivore, possibly a wolf. While it is impossible to determine whether this individual was preyed upon or simply had his body scavenged after death, the influence of carnivores would suggest that body parts could have been spread over a large area.
The two incisors both belonged to the same individual and were found within a few metres of each other at Q1/B. The incisors exhibit the signs of severe periodontal (gum) disease and the traces of many small cutmarks across their surface. These cutmarks, which are identical to those made on butchered bone by flint tools, are not the signs of cannibalism but some repeated activity involving the use of flint tools close to the mouth. Similar marks are known from Neanderthal teeth and may relate to food processing activities where the mouth was employed as a third hand.
One the basis of tooth and tibia morphology the Boxgrove specimens have been assigned to Homo Heidlebergensis, the type fossil being the Mauer mandible from Germany (right). This species, found in both Africa and Europe during the Middle Pleistocene was the ancestor of both modern Homo Sapiens and the Neanderthals.
Blow to Neanderthal breeding theory
Early modern humans and Neanderthals probably did not interbreed, according to evidence collected by Italian scientists.
Neanderthal man: Interbreeding debate continues
Researchers have long considered Neanderthals and the humans that lived in Europe 30,000 years ago as distinct species, even though they lived side by side.
However, there is controversy over theories that Neanderthals made a contribution to the gene pool of people living today.
This has been fuelled by a skeleton uncovered in Portugal that appears to show both Neanderthal and human features.
The latest research, from the University of Ferrara in Italy, compared genetic material from Neanderthals, Cro-Magnon humans and 21st-Century Europeans.
The DNA from the Neanderthals and Cro-Magnons was taken from their bones.
The genetic material was extracted from cell structures called mitochondria rather than the nucleus.
The scientists found that while, unsurprisingly, modern humans show clear genetic signs of their Cro-Magnon ancestry, no such link between Neanderthal DNA and modern European DNA could be established.
The results, they say, indicate that Neanderthals made little or no contribution to the genes of modern humans.
Out of Africa
The mitochondrial DNA of the two ancient species was very different, claims the study.
"This discontinuity is difficult to reconcile with the hypothesis that both Neanderthals and early anatomically modern humans contributed to the current European gene pool."
The finding are said to support the theory that the "anatomically modern human" arose in Africa some 150,000 years ago and then dispersed across the globe, displacing the Neanderthals on the way.
It is a blow to the so-called multi-regional theory, in which some interbreeding between Neanderthal and early humans is said to have taken place.
The latest study is reported in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).
Only one kind of man, say scientists
May 13 2003
John Von Radowitz Newsdesk@Wme.Co.Uk, The Western Mail - The National Newspaper Of Wales
ANCESTORS of modern humans probably never inter-bred with the Neanderthals who were living in Europe 40,000 years ago, scientists reported yesterday.
New genetic evidence suggests that Neanderthal DNA was different from the DNA of early modern humans.
It therefore appears unlikely that Neanderthals made any significant contribution to the present-day European gene pool.
Scientists have been divided for years on the extent to which Neanderthal blood flows in the veins of modern Europeans.
Neanderthals pre-dated early modern humans in Europe but the two groups lived alongside each other for a few thousand years during the late Pleistocene era.
One theory suggests that Neanderthals and early modern humans were related populations with a single evolving species.
The alternative view is that early modern humans displaced the more primitive Neanderthals without inter-breeding.
To test the theories, Italian researcher Giorgio Bertorelle, from the University of Ferrara, and colleagues extracted DNA from the skeletons of two Cro-Magnon early modern humans who lived about 23,000 and 25,000 years ago.
They compared the samples with DNA from Neanderthals dating back 29,000 to 42,000 years, and with DNA from modern Europeans.
DNA from the Cro-Magnons fitted well within the spectrum of genetic variation seen in modern Europeans but differed sharply from that of the Neanderthals, who were chronologically closer to them.
The scientists wrote yesterday in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, "This discontinuity is difficult to reconcile with the hypothesis that both Neanderthals and early anatomically modern humans contributed to the current European gene pool."
THURSDAY 15/05/2003 12:35:16
Offaly bog-body now thought to be centuries old
Gardaí investigating the discovery of a headless body in a bog in County Offaly have extended their estimate for the age of the corpse from 'decades' to 'centuries'.
The find, the remains of a decapitated torso, was made by a workman repairing drains near Daingean earlier today.
The scene was initially treated as the site of a potential murder, but following a preliminary investigation by the Irish Assistant State Pathologist Dr Marie Cassidy, the discovery has entered the purview of the archaeologists rather than crime scene investigators.
"Bog-Bodies" as they are known are frequently difficult to date upon first inspection due to the unique conditions in bogs, which can preserve organic matter in almost perfect condition for hundreds or even thousands of years. Acidic water and a lack of oxygen can retard decomposition to the point where it is even possible to identify the last meals eaten by a victim or even, in some cases, take their fingerprints.
Some bog-bodies are so well preserved that it is even possible to deduce when they last shaved before they died.
Headless finds are not uncommon for bog-bodies, which have been discovered across Ireland and in Scandanavia. It is thought that a proportion are the remains of executed criminals or prisoners-of-war, and that some of the older finds may have been human sacrifices - the practice of skull-collecting was one commmon to both Celts and Vikings.
Some, of course, were outright murder victims, dumped in boggy ground where it would be virtually impossible to find the body.
Proper archaeological investigation may reveal the Daingean find to be of archaeological significance - especially if the rest of the body can be located.
Archaeologists stroll down Roman high street
David Derbyshire, Science Correspondent
A Roman high street, complete with a pedestrian walkway, shops and a roadside shrine where weary travellers could refresh their spirits and curse their enemies, has been unearthed by archaeologists.
The 200-yard stretch of Roman village life was uncovered in farmland destined for a housing estate in Northamptonshire. The site is so large, and the finds so plentiful, that archaeologists have yet to uncover many of its secrets.
But because the street and foundations are so well preserved, researchers say it will offer an exceptional glimpse into life in a typical Roman roadside settlement.
The remains were found to the north of Higham Ferrers, Northamptonshire.
Archaeologists, funded by English Heritage and the landowners, the Duchy of Lancaster, have been recording and retrieving as much as they can from the five-acre site before the bulldozers move in.
Dr Alex Smith of Oxford Archaeology, who carried out the dig, said: "It's an unusual site. It is exceptionally well preserved, which is giving us a picture of a normal roadside settlement in this period."
The archaeologists believe around half the village has been exposed. The rest lies below a 1950s housing estate to the south-east.
On one side of the road they found foundations of at least 18 buildings - possibly homes, shops and workshops. On the other side, they uncovered the remains from two shrines.
Dr Smith said: "The two most important areas are the shrines. One is surrounded by walls. Hundreds of items were found in this area, including brooches, pins and other offerings. A lot had been ritually broken and deposited in the shrine and were arranged around a clearance in the centre."
Along with fragments of pottery, bone and metalwork, the team found slabs of lead which resemble "curse tablets" found at a shrine in Bath.
These have yet to be deciphered and may reveal the names of the gods being worshipped.
Dr Smith said: "They would evoke a curse on people who had offended them. If someone stole your coat, you would go to the shrine and say to Minerva that you would offer her money in exchange for punishing the person."
The shrine would have been used by locals and travellers. A later shrine and temple, in the middle of a "village green", have also been found. From records and finds elsewhere, the archaeologists believe that buildings were stone-built with steeply pitched thatched roofs.
They had no chimneys - the smoke from the central hearths seeped through the thatch. The windows were probably simple squares with wooden frames and shutters but no glass.
The discovery of tweezers, brooches and hairpins, all made from bone, across the site suggest many were homes.
Coins and iron weighing scales are clues that they were used as shops, while needles, chisels and pruning hooks indicate that some could have been workshops.
The village was probably settled in the second century AD when a collection of round stone buildings was built next to a road running along the high ground bordering the Nene Valley.
The dig has also shown something about how the dead were treated in Roman Britain. Dr Smith said: "There are two main cemetery groups with a mixture of cremations and burials."
Some heads had been removed and placed between the legs - a practice the Romans believed speeded up the passage into the afterlife.
There are no clues to why the village became deserted. People stopped living there around the end of the fourth century or start of the fifth as the Saxons arrived.
There are some Saxon buildings in the village, but most of the Roman homes appear to have be unused and so fell into ruin, Dr Smith said.
River rescue bid for Roman bridge
May 9 2003
By Tony Henderson Environment Editor, The Journal
A rescue operation is set to save the remains of a spectacular Roman bridge which once spanned the Tyne.
A trial excavation has revealed massive blocks from the stone bridge in the river bank at Corbridge in Northumberland.
Evidence suggests that the bridge had a triumphal arch and was adorned with statues.
But the structure is under threat from riverbank erosion and Tyne and Wear Museums and English Heritage have lodged a bid with the Heritage Lottery Fund for backing to finance a rescue dig.
That would involve uncovering the remains in the riverbank, subject to approval from the Environment Agency, and using divers to probe the riverbed.
"The bridge at Corbridge is one of the most impressive Roman architectural remains in Britain," said Paul Bidwell, head of archaeology at Tyne Wear Museums.
What lies beneath the riverbank is a huge stone ramp which carried the road up to the arched bridge, which rose to around 10m above the Tyne."
It is believed that the Corbridge span was similar, and was built around the same time in the Second Century, as the bridge at Chesters in Northumberland, which has been excavated.
Mr Bidwell believes the bridges were built by the Emperor Antoninus Pius, as part of the re-occupation of Hadrian's Wall after the Antonine Wall in Scotland was abandoned.
"Roman stone bridges in Britain are known only in the North of England. But the remains are being washed away," he said.
One option may be to reconstruct the remains further back on the riverbank and the operation would also shed light on when the bridge collapsed after Roman rule ended.
Castle yields more secrets
May 12 2003
The Western Mail - The National Newspaper Of Wales
ARCHAEOLOGISTS will be called in to the former headquarters of the English crown in South Wales following the discovery of a network of mediaeval walls.
Detailed excavation work will delay conservation and enhancement works at Carmarthen Castle, most of which was demolished at the end of the 18th Century by the Regency architect John Nash.
The move comes after cellars were discovered in front of the castle gatehouse, together with a blocked doorway believed to date from Tudor times.
Cobbled floors and the remains of walls have also been found and builders have uncovered stonework that may once have been the base of a drawbridge and barbican.
A team of archaeologists is being commissioned for a dig and the land in Nott Square will be cordoned off for work expected to last for about three months.
The move comes as Carmarthenshire County Council, which owns the site, is planning an official opening to mark the end of the £1m third phase of a major enhancement scheme. About three quarters of the cost is being met by a National Lottery Heritage grant, with the rest coming from the council and Cadw.
Carmarthen Castle was founded in 1109 by Henry I and became the centre of royal administration in South-West Wales. It was gradually developed into an extensive fortress with an inner bailey of five towers, a great keep, king's hall and chambers, chapels, an exchequer and other buildings and towers. All that remains now is the ancient shell keep, the early 15th-century gate-house, two towers and short lengths of curtain wall.
DEALING IN LOOTED CULTURAL OBJECTS ONE STEP CLOSER TO BEING A CRIME - ALLAN
Richard Allan MP's Private Members Bill to safeguard historic buildings and archaeological sites came one step closer to the statute book following Standing Committee today. Mr Allan said:
"It is unacceptable that legal action often cannot be taken against someone who knowingly sells a cultural object which has been looted from a historic building or archaeological site.
"The recent instances of looting of archaeological material in Iraq has demonstrated the urgency for such a bill to reach the statute book as soon as possible.
"There is a world-wide market for this trade that has been linked to organised crime and the funding of terrorism, it must be closed down. If we could prosecute those who operate unscrupulously on the fringes of the market it would act as a great deterrent. Reputable dealers want nothing to do with this black market.
"This bill has full DCMS support and is supported by relevant bodies from the archaeology, museums and dealer communities."
Notes to Editors
Passage of the bill
The Committee stage took place in Standing Committee on Wednesday, 4th June.
This Bill will now have its report stage on 13th June, where any remaining amendments will be debated in the House of Commons.
It will then go to the House of Lords with a good chance of becoming law before the end of the session.
Purpose of the bill
Richard Allan's Private Members Bill 'Dealing in Cultural Object (Offences) Bill' will have its second reading today.
This bill will introduce a new criminal offence of dealing in a cultural object knowing or believing it to be tainted. The offence is designed to combat traffic in unlawfully removed cultural objects and, thereby, to assist in maintaining the integrity of buildings, structures and monuments (including wrecks) worldwide by removing the commercial incentive to those involved in the looting of such sites. The bill will cover objects, which, although not stolen, have been illicitly excavated or removed from a monument. The offence will apply irrespective to the place where the cultural object was illicitly excavated or removed and thus will apply equally to objects illegally excavated or removed in the UK and objects illegally excavated or removed outside the UK.
A cultural object is an object of historical, architectural or archaeological interest and it is tainted if it is removed from a building, structure or monument of historical, architectural or archaeological interest and it is excavated, provided the removal or excavation constituted a criminal offence at the time it was done.
Background to the bill
The DCMS Select Committee reported in July 2000 on "Cultural Property: Return and Illicit Trade" and recommended that the criminal law of the United Kingdom (UK) should be changed in relation to the illicit trade of items illegally excavated or illegally exported from the country of origin.
The Secretary of State established the Ministerial Advisory Panel on the Illicit Trade in Cultural Objects in May 2000 under the Chairmanship of Norman Palmer, Barrister and Professor of Commercial Law at University College London to advise her on the Select Committees' recommendations. ITAP reported in December 2000 and made a number of recommendations. Included in its report was the recommendation that a new criminal offence be created in the following terms: "We propose that, to the extent it is not covered by existing criminal law, it be a criminal offence dishonestly to import, deal in, or be in possession of any cultural object, knowing or believing that the object was stolen, illegally excavated, or removed from any monument or wreck contrary to local law".
The 1970 UNESCO Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property would be complemented by making such trade new criminal offence and this would reinforce its implementation in the UK.
Supporters of the bill
The bill is supported by almost all the relevant bodies from the sectors of trade, archaeology and museums. The principal organisations include:
The All Party Parliamentary Archaeology Group which currently has a membership of 137 parliamentarians
The Standing Conference on Portable Antiquities, chaired by the Council for British Archaeology and comprising 37 archaeological and museums bodies including the British Museum, the Museums Association, and the National Trust
The Institute of Historic Building Conservation, this represents conservation professionals in the private sector in the UK and the Republic of Ireland. It has around 1400 members.
This Bill is a recommendation of Illicit Trade Advisory Panel which has members from:
* The Museums Association
* British Museum
* Standing Conference on Portable Antiquities
* British Art Market Federation
* Antiquities Dealers Association
* McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research, Cambridge
Rome Named After A Woman?
By Jennifer Viegas, Discovery News
May 15, 2003 — A fragment of writing by Stesichorus, a Graeco-Sicilian poet who wrote not long after Rome's founding, suggests Rome was named after a Trojan woman called Roma.
The fragment, rediscovered and embraced by growing numbers of Italians today, challenges the popular legend that Romulus was Rome's founder.
Stesichorus (638-555 B.C.) described how Roma, with her Trojan fleet, fled the war-torn city of Troy.
They arrived in a beautiful place where visitors were "enticed to dream while being caressed by the off-shore breeze." Roma and her entourage, captivated by the idyllic spot, did not desire to leave. She had all of her ships burned. The happily stranded group then named the place after Roma.
Eleanor Leach, professor of classics at Indiana University, Bloomington, told Discovery News that the story is also recounted in a 5th century historical narrative entitled "Roman Antiquities" by the Greek writer Dionysius of Halicarnassus. He referred to the woman as Rhome, which means "power" in Greek.
According to a recent report in Rome's Il Messaggero newspaper, about 1,000 people marched in support of Roma on April 21. Based on writings by the scholar Varro who lived in the first century B.C., Rome was founded on that day in 753 B.C. between 8 and 9 a.m. A yearly celebration called Parilia is observed to commemorate the event.
While Rome's early history is clouded in mythology, most people are taught the legend of Romulus and Remus. In Roman writings, these twin brothers were born in the ancient Italian city of Alba Longa. They left, hoping to establish their own city. They chose a site, built a wall around it, and Romulus named it after himself.
Plutarch, a Greek biographer and essayist who lived from approximately 46-120 A.D., popularized the myth in his work entitled "Romulus." Stesichorus was born just over a century after 753 B.C., which supporters of the Roma theory say strengthens their claims.
Not everyone agrees.
Guy Rogers, professor of history and classics at Wellesley College, told Discovery News, "Stesichorus' context, controversial in itself, suits the establishment of the Republic- circa 510 B.C.E. — much better than the traditional foundation date of Rome."
However, he added, "We do know that as early as the sixth century B.C. a place called Aeneia in Macedonia was issuing coins showing Aeneas (a Trojan hero) carrying his father Anchises from the ruins of Troy, so the legend of someone getting away from the destruction of Troy goes back that far at least."
While the myth concerning the Trojan refugee Roma appears to be garnering attention in modern Italy, ancient Rome's male leaders favored the Romulus and Remus story.
"The notion of Roma/Rhome as a daughter of Aeneas did exist in ancient texts, although it wasn't the foundation legend that the Romans preferred, especially after Julius Caesar and Augustus had claimed to be descendants of Aeneas' son Iulus, known also as Ascanius," explained Leach.
According to the Romulus and Remus legend, Iulus was related to Romulus, so the link would have given Julius Caesar and Augustus direct ties to Rome's supposed founder.
Classics scholars agree that further research, including archaeological work, is needed to determine, if possible, who was the actual namesake of Rome.
VIOLENCE IN THE BOGS
In 1904 two naked bodies were found in the southern part of the Bourtanger Moor in the Netherlands. Because one of them lays on the outstretched arm of the other, who is obviously male, it was long believed that the second body was that of a woman. We now know that this body is also male. Both men died between 160 B.C. and 220 A.D. The intestines of one body (right) protrude from a stab wound in his left chest. How the other man died is unknown. (Drents Museum of the Netherlands, Assen)
In 1879 the body of an adult woman was found in a bog near Ramten, Jutland in Denmark. The body, known as Huldremose Woman, was very well preserved. The woman met her violent end sometime between 160 B.C. and 340 A.D. Her arms and legs showed signs of repeated hacking, and the diggers who found her body noted that her right arm was detached from the rest of her body. That arm was evidently cut off before she was deposited in the peat. (National Museum of Denmark, Copenhagen)
The mummified body of a 16-year-old girl was dredged out of a small raised bog near the village of Yde, province of Drenthe, Holland, in 1897. The body was badly damaged by the peat dredgers' tools. Yde Girl died a violent death sometime between 170 B.C. and A.D 230. The woolen band around her throat shows that she died from strangulation. A wound near her left clavicle was probably inflicted with a knife. With the girl were the remains of a large and rather worn woolen cloak. (Drents Museum of the Netherlands, Assen)
Elling Woman was found in 1938 in the Bjeldskovdal bog, west of Silkeborg, Denmark, only about 200 feet from where Tollund Man (see below) came to light 12 years later. Elling Woman was wrapped in one sheepskin cape, and another covered her legs and feet. She wore a woven belt around her waist. Elling Woman was hanged with a leather thong, which left a V-shaped furrow that is clearly visible in her neck. The leather belt that was used to hang her still survives. It has a sliding knot, making it suitable for execution purposes. This happened in the pre-Roman Iron Age, between 350 and 100 B.C. (Silkeborg Museum)
Tollund Man was discovered in Bjeldskovdal in 1950. He lived in the third or second century B.C., and is thought to have died at 30-40 years of age, choked to death by hanging from a leather belt. He was found lying on his side with arms bent and legs drawn up, and he was naked except for a leather cap and belt. Much of his flesh had decayed, but his head was intact including the stubble on his chin. Analysis of his intestines indicates he probably had eaten a gruel consisting predominantly of barley and seeds available in winter or early spring. (Drents Museum of the Netherlands, Assen)
Bogs and bodies
Among the many objects that came to rest in the wet boglands, there are some that provide exceptionally detailed information about the past. This is because they were deliberately deposited directly into water under circumstances that assured their survival. The best examples of this phenomenon are the bog bodies.
Map of Irish bog body finds.
Bogs can be treacherous places and it is likely that some of the bodies found in the peat were those of travellers who slipped into bog pools and were trapped. Some ancient bodies found in the peat were supposedly found clutching heather or sticks as if attempting to haul themselves out.
Other bodies found in bogs are deliberate burials. In Germany the bodies of a man, woman and child were found in a bog. They were fully clothed and laid upon animal hides, with bunches of flowers placed upon the bodies.
In Northern Ireland a woman's body was discovered in Drumkeeragh Bog in Co. Down in 1780. She was dressed in a woollen costume. Fragments of the clothing are in the National Museum.
Sometimes strangers who died in rural communities in the Middle Ages were buried in unconsecrated ground, and so were women who died in childbirth.
Many bog bodies have been found in Denmark and Britain, some a few thousand years old. Over 80 bog bodies have been discovered in Ireland since 1750. Many of these bodies were never examined in detail and most were reburied without study or were badly damaged. The majority of the bodies date to late Medieval or modern times although some date to the Iron Age.
The first time an opportunity arose to examine an Irish bog body in detail occurred in 1978 when a body was discovered in Meenybradden Bog, Co. Donegal.
Meenybradden bog body
The body of a young girl aged between 25 and 30 years old was discovered during hand turf cutting in Meenybradden Bog, near Ardara, Co. Donegal in 1978. The naked body was wrapped in a woollen cloak, of a style worn in the Middle Ages, which served as a shroud. The body had been carefully placed in a grave that had been dug in the bog about 1m below the surface.
Head of Meenybradden bog body.
(Courtesy of the National Museum of Ireland)
The body was examined by Dr John Harbison, the Chief State Pathologist at the time, in Ballyshannon Hospital. X-rays were taken and CAT scans were carried out to determine the state of the internal organs. The Dental Hospital took samples of the teeth for examination and tissue and hair samples were also examined. The body was in good condition, the upper half retained the skin. The short cropped hair, eyelids and eyelashes were well preserved. The stomach was not preserved. The cause of death still remains a mystery. No evidence of strangulation, poisoning, injury or possible death during childbirth could be found. A radiocarbon date acquired for a bone from the body was 1570 AD, an appropriate age for the style of dress worn.
If the cause of death is a mystery, so too is the reason why she was buried in the bog. It was a deliberate burial in the bog because it was so carefully done. The girl was lying on her back and orientated in an east-west direction. Perhaps the girl could not afford a decent burial in hallowed ground and she was secretly laid to rest in the bog. The body was sent to the Organics Conservation Laboratory in the British Museum for conservation by freeze-drying.
Gallagh bog body
Gallagh bog body from Co. Galway.
(Courtesy of the National Museum of Ireland)
A body found in 1821 at Gallagh, near Castleblakeney, Co. Galway and was radiocarbon dated to 2,040 years old, indicating that it belonged to the Iron Age. The body of a man lay at a depth of 3m in the bog. It was clothed in a deer skin cape which extended as far as the knees. It lay on its left side, slightly flexed at the waist and knees. The cape was tied at the neck with a band of willow rods. At each side of the body a wooden stake was placed at an angle. Each post was about 2m long and pointed apparently with a hatchet. The body was reburied and dug up several times to show people and it was not until 1829 that it was finally removed from the bog and presented to the National Museum.
Reconstruction drawing of the bog burial at Gallagh, Co. Galway.
(Courtesy of the National Museum of Ireland)
It was not conserved at that time because the technology of freeze-drying which is used today had not been invented. The body was allowed to dry out, so that it has shrunk and the hair and stubbly beard have largely disappeared and only a few scraps of the cape survive. The presence of wooden stakes prove that this was a deliberate burial as this practice is known from Denmark, and is part of a ritual to pin the body firmly into the bog.