Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Mysterious Bog People. Fear of Ambiguity

An imaginative draw for tourists is preserved human bodies in northern European moors, their condition leathered from tannic acid in bogs where they were found. The era spans some 12,000 years: Stone Age to the Middle Ages. Some display signs of foul play, untimely death, and then the speculation begins:  death as punishment, as offering to deities, what?  The degree of speculation concerned those at Archeology Magazine in reviewing a traveling show from 2006.  In the clear absence of proofs, with no definitive facts, no firsthand written record, the tale-telling begins. Find mottoes, little lessons, morality notes, made up and tacked on the exhibit. Bog fantasy, or "kitsch from the ditch,"says http://www.archaeology.org/0607/reviews/bog.html

National Geographic finds that some of the damage evident was inflicted by pressure or other means long after death, see http://ngm.nationalgeographic.com/ngm/0709/bog-bodies/bog-bodies-p2.html. Sometimes people even stepped with heavy clog on a body during the excavation process.

There are hundreds of such bodies: in Denmark, including Grauballe Man in Jutland; but also in Poland, Northern Germany and the Netherlands.
http://www.archaeology.org/online/features/bog/exhibit.html. Many cultures tossed items and bodies in bogs. Finding those reasonably intact is not evidence of human sacrifice, but of the conditions of tanning.

The display of the Tollund Man we saw at Silkeborg was responsibly non-committal in leaving numerous options open, but the visuals and suggestivity outweigh the technical non-conclusions, see http://www.tollundman.dk/doeden.asp; and http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/ancient/tolland-man.html. But it is this very stress on needing reasons that is also of interest.
Spectacular finds! Write a book!  Why not lay out what we know and do not know, and leave it at that. Because there is marketing to be had. Abhor the vacuum and fill it up. Inconclusive circumstances bog deaths?  Make it certain. Then again, the sight of a noose-ish thing, or rope for tying people together around the neck, or other use invites speculation, and is hard to ignore. It is easier to explain away broken bones, gashes.

Tacitus, Roman historian, apparently referred to the manner of death as punishment for cowards, the unwarlike, and those who "disgraced their bodies".  And that is the only contemporaneous report we have. See the Archeology reviews site, and http://www.usatoday.com/tech/science/columnist/vergano/2011-01-16-bog-bodies_N.htm

No comments: