The Times August 01, 2006

The bog man still looking his best 2,300 years later
By Devika Bhat

FOR decades it has been a man’s privilege to scoff at the lengths to which women will go to make themselves look beautiful. But go back a few thousand years and the male of the species went to extraordinary lengths to look good, it has been revealed.

Scientists examining prehistoric bodies found in the peat bogs of Ireland have discovered evidence of careful grooming on male corpses. One of the bodies, dug up in 2003 at Clonycavan, near Dublin, had Mohawk-style hair, held in place with a gel substance. The other, unearthed three months later 25 miles (40km) away in Oldcroghan by workmen, had perfectly manicured fingernails.

The findings on the bodies, which are 2,300 years old, suggest that despite living in the Iron Age, ancient man had some very modern concerns. “I think the message I’m getting is that although they were living in a different time, a different culture, eating different things, living in a different way, people are people — they’re the same in their thinking,” said Rolly Read, head of conservation at the National Museum of Ireland in Dublin.

Mr Read, one of a team of scientists from the UK and Ireland to carry out the research, said that the examination of the bodies had provided valuable insights into life in the Iron Age. The hair product used, for example, was a gel made of plant oil and pine resin imported from southwestern France or Spain, showing that trade between Ireland and southern Europe was taking place almost 2,500 years ago.

Although hundreds of bodies have been found in bogs in northern Europe’s wetlands, where they were preserved by the peat’s chemical composition, many have until now been spared detailed examination, as techniques to preserve them further had not been perfected.

As well as having groomed nails and coiffered locks, the corpses reveal evidence of a good diet. While the males discovered may have been particular about their appearance, however, their fates were less than pretty. Both bodies, thought to be those of men in their twenties, betrayed signs of suffering painful deaths. As with several other bodies found in bogs, the man at Oldcroghan had been beheaded.

It has been a long-running mystery for archaeologists as to why bodies ended up in peat bogs and why so many of those appear to display signs of violent death. Explanatory theories range from punishment for crimes by execution to evidence of ritual slayings as human sacrifices.

Eamonn Kelly, keeper of Irish antiquities at the National Museum, has developed a theory based on the discovery that nearly all of the Irish examples were placed in the borders immediately surrounding royal land or on tribal boundaries.

“These people may have been hostages or deposed kings or candidates for kingship who have been sacrificed to ensure a successful reign for a new king, and this was done as part of a kingship ritual and as a fertility offering to the gods,” he said.

Another theory, prompted by the writings of Roman historian Tacitus from around the same era, is that the perpetrators of “shameful crimes” were put into the bog to trap their souls in a watery limbo, where the body did not rot. The two most recent bodies form part of the Kingship & Sacrifice exhibition, currently at the National Museum of Ireland.


Tollund Man, Denmark Found in 1950, with his body so well-preserved that his discoverers thought he was a recent murder victim and called the police. Dating from 350BC, he still had the rope used to strangle him tied around his neck

Grauballe Man, Denmark Found in 1952, his is one of the best-preserved bodies in the world, enough to get his fingerprints. Thought to be about 30 years old, he died from having his throat cut

Lindow Man, England Found at Lindow Moss, In Cheshire, in 1984 by peat-cutters. The contents of his stomach showed grains of mistletoe pollen mixed with a grain cake

Weerdinge Men, Holland Found in 1904, these two bodies were lying side by side embracing and had suffered violent deaths. They date from 160BC–220AD[/b]