Bog Bodies

Kingship and Sacrifice Exhibition, National Museum of Ireland : Archaeology
A visit to see the four Iron Age bog bodies on display in the museum really brought ancient history to life for me. It was quite an experience to stand so close to these incredibly well preserved mummified bodies and wonder what they looked like when alive, what their lives were like and how they must have felt before being sacrificed in the most brutal manner. These are the bodies of men of high status, quite possibly kings, and the evidence points to ritual sacrifice. Maybe they were failed kings or were blamed for poor harvests and they were the greatest offering that could be given to the earth goddess.

All that remains of Oldcroghan Man is his upper torso, minus his head – a result of being slain in half and decapitated, amongst other gruesome injuries inflicted on him. The state of preservation is amazing, particularly the fine details of his hands and fingernails and the braided leather armlet on his arm.

Only the head and torso of Clonycavan Man exists, probably due to being cut in half by a peat-cutting machine, but what is particularly interesting about him is his hairstyle. His hair was pulled up onto the top of his head in a Mohawk-like style and held in place with a hair gel containing a resin only found in southern Europe. This would indicate that there was trading between Ireland and southern Europe and that he would probably have been someone of high status to be using this.

The exhibition is based on the theory that  Iron Age kings were ritually sacrificed and their bodies placed in bogs along tribal boundaries. The bog bodies are on display along with other interesting finds related to Iron Age rituals of kingship, and a booklet by Eamonn Kelly, former Keeper of Irish Antiquities, outlines his theories relating to these bog burials.


Kingship and sacrifice: Iron Age bog bodies and boundaries
by Eamonn P. Kelly
Cover shows the head of Clonycavan Man

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