Book Review: Bog Bodies Uncovered: Solving Europe ’s Ancient Mystery

“Bog Bodies Uncovered: Solving Europe ’s Ancient Mystery” by Miranda Aldhouse-Green
Terri Schlichenmeyer
Staff Writer

Your favorite TV detective can solve anything.
Give her a dead body, and she’ll find the killer. Show him a faint trail, and the thief will be collared in no time. No clue, no fingerprint, no smoking gun or too-good-to-be-true McGuffin escapes notice. Even so, no crime is perfect and, in “Bog Bodies Uncovered” by Miranda Aldhouse-Green, these corpses are 2,000 years old.
Nearly two centuries ago, Danish peat cutters made a terrible discovery: they found a middle-age woman’s body, gruesomely skewered beneath the water of a bog by her elbows and knees. Authorities quickly surmised that the woman was once a queen - proof that a long-ago legend was true - and they reburied her with highest honors.
Alas, she wasn’t a queen, nor was she the first body discovered in the bogs of northern Europe . She wouldn’t be the last, either; Aldhouse-Green believes that around a hundred such corpses, complete or partial, have been discovered over the centuries, although there may be more.
To understand the how they got there, one must know how they remain.
Bogs, as Aldhouse-Green explains, are bodies of water that lack oxygen which, with bog acid and Sphagnum (a kind of vegetation), helps ensure that once-living material doesn’t decay when immersed. Thus the “bog bodies” are preserved, almost leather-like, sometimes for thousands of years; many of the bodies Aldhouse-Green cites came from the Iron Age and medieval times. The preservation could include facial features, internal organs, and contents of stomachs.
Such “burials,” however, weren’t the norm; indeed, one only need read a description of some of the bodies to know that they were far from business-as-usual: most had perished from extreme violence, hangings, beheadings, or beatings. Many were naked when they went into the bog, which Aldhouse-Green says could indicate an attempt at humiliation. Based on the fact that many of the victims were trussed, shorn, and had been fed cheap food prior to their deaths, it’s possible that they were captives or that their deaths were the result of execution. Some may have been killed because of a disability or handicap. And some, she says, may have been sacrificed…
Here’s my best advice: “Bog Bodies Uncovered” is definitely not something you’ll want to leave on the bedside table.
While science is at the forefront of this fascinating book, there’s also no denying that author Miranda Aldhouse-Green sets the tone for creepiness here, with vivid descriptions of violence, torture, and murder with the possibility that ancient folks enjoyed viewing the bodies for awhile after they were killed. Her hypotheses, piled atop of what’s already been proven about the bog bodies and the mind-racing what-ifs that this kind of book naturally induces, leave a reader feeling unsettled and squirmy – more so because this is one mystery that may never be solved.
While this, admittedly, isn’t a subject everybody wants to know about, I found this book to be riveting. For whodunit fans, historians, science lovers, or anyone who wonders what to read next, “Bog Bodies Uncovered” pretty much solves that question.