Using the popular new book “Bog Bodies Uncovered: Solving Europe’s Ancient Mystery” by Miranda Aldhouse-Green, University of Akron archeology students Joshua Murphy and Stephanie Stanley will give a free presentation at the Akron-Summit County Public Library’s Main Library Tuesday, May 24 at 6 p.m. about the bog bodies and what their discovery can tell us about their lives and deaths.
“Bog Bodies Uncovered” is a fascinating tale of true crime, cold case forensics and archeology.
For a couple of centuries, uncannily well preserved remains of prehistoric men, women and children have been uncovered in the bogs of northern Europe. Because of how well preserved they are, these remains have sometimes been mistaken for victims of modern crimes. With each bog body discovered, interest in the bogs has increased.
Murphy explains what it is about the environment of the bog that preserves the bodies so well. “A bog is part water, part vegetation, and the mix of the two creates anaerobic conditions – that is, conditions that prevent oxygen from entering. These conditions prevent the bodies and clothing from decaying as they would if they were exposed. Additionally, the bogs in Europe have a specific type of moss named ‘sphagnum.’ This moss acts as a sort of preservative and prevents microbes and bacteria from affecting the bodies, and also gives them their tanned, dark skin and reddish hair colors.”
Murphy says of the bodies themselves, “The bog bodies that we are speaking about range from about 200 BCE to 1000 CE. One of the amazing things about them is that they are so well preserved that scientists are able to recover DNA from them in a few rare cases. A few of the bodies have been found with organs intact to the point that we are even able to discover the contents of their stomachs. It may be possible to use this DNA to link these ancient people to present-day relatives (assuming an ideal situation), but to my knowledge, this has not yet been done.”
He adds: “We are able to learn aspects of life from these bodies that would otherwise be lost to time. We can sometimes see what clothing they wore, how they fashioned their hair, how they kept their beards – all things that are typically lost because hair and clothing decays very, very quickly. We have, more or less, a window into the ancient past that is rarely found in other places.”
Murphy credits author Miranda Aldhouse-Green for her knack for making archaeology interesting, understandable and accessible to all. He believes strongly in the the importance of the study of archeology. He says, “I’m very passionate about public archaeology and how to interest people in this branch of science. The past is not only interesting; it is fundamental to who we are today. I believe that the more we know about where we have come from, the better we will be able to adapt ourselves to the future.”