No mercy

Bog body deaths reveal a gruesome trend throughout history

But many deaths remain shrouded in mystery.

Nationalmuseet via Wikimedia Commons

Europe’s peat bogs are teeming with life — and also death.


Due to their unique environment, peat bogs naturally preserve human remains and keep them in remarkable shape for hundreds to thousands of years.

More ancient bodies have been uncovered from bogs than you might think.

Experts estimate that at least 2,000 bog mummies and skeletons are known today — and many more are probably still buried.

Peter Lindberg via Wikimedia Commons

Horst Sollinger/imageBROKER/Getty Images

But how did so many individuals end up in bogs in the first place?

A new study published this week in the journal Antiquity investigates 266 historical bog sites, and reveals some violent results.

For the study, researchers collected data on the causes of death, demographics, and frequency of bog remains over 10,900 years in Europe.

This map shows the full and partial remains of individual bog bodies studied across northwest Europe.

van Beek et. al./Antiquity 2022
The oldest remains date back to 9000 B.C.

But the vast majority on record date between 1000 B.C. and 1100 A.D.

Sven Rosborn via Wikimedia Commons

Of the bodies with discernable causes of death, many died during that time from violent causes — be it stabbings, decapitations, blows to the head, or a combination of actions.

Those gruesome trends continued in more recent years.

19 percent of all bog deaths between 1100 and 1900 A.D. showed signs of violence, including several shootings.

Bog killings happened for a variety of reasons, researchers say — such as ritualistic murders, armed conflicts, robberies, and wartime massacres.

Nationalmuseet via Wikimedia Commons

However, there were also many suicides and accidental deaths in the bogs, showing that it wasn’t only deadly conflict that sent people to their graves.

For example, there were 10 violent deaths (red), six suicides (yellow), and four accidental deaths (blue) between 1100 and 1900.

van Beek et. al./Antiquity 2022

And the vast majority of remains did not reveal a clear cause of death — leaving even more questions to be answered about how they perished.

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