National Geographic : 2007 Sep
head and, with a short knife, slit his throat from ear to ear. The executioner pushed the dying man into the pit. The body twisted as it fell and was swallowed by the bog. Eamonn Kelly, keeper of Irish antiquities at the National Museum of Ireland, thinks similar scenes of sacrifice may have played out in his country's ancient kingdoms. Three months after Clonycavan Man came to light, another ancient body fell from the bucket of a backhoe digging in a bog 25 miles away. This man had once stood almost six feet four inches tall, but only his trunk and arms remained. Arm wounds suggested he had tried to fend off a knife before he was fatally stabbed in the heart. Then his body had been oddly mutilated his nipples apparently cut, his upper arms pierced and small wreaths (withies) of twisted hazel threaded through the holes. Encircling one biceps was an armband of braided leather with a bronze amulet incised with Celtic designs. Like Clonycavan Man's hair pomade, made with resin The bodies may have represented the most splendid of offerings: pretenders to the throne or failed kings. that archaeologists concluded must have been imported from the south of France, these were costly marks of status. Another clue linked this new body, called Old croghan Man, to some 40 other Irish bog bod ies including Clonycavan Man: All were buried on borders between ancient Irish kingdoms. Together with the costly ornaments, Kelly says, the locations suggest tales of royal sacrifice. In ancient times, he explains, Irish kings symboli cally married the fertility goddess; famine meant the goddess had turned against the king and had to be mollified. Kelly believes the bog bodies rep resented the most splendid of offerings: high ranking hostages taken to force rebellious lords into obedience, pretenders to the throne, or even 92 NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC * SEPTEMBER 2007 the failed kings themselves. Each injury they suf fered honored a different aspect of the goddess fertility, sovereignty, and war. "It's controlled violence," Kelly says. "They are giving the god dess her due." Oldcroghan Man normally ate meat, labora tory analysis of his hair and nails showed. But residues in his gut indicated that his last meal consisted of cereals and buttermilk, emblems of fertility befitting a sacrifice to the goddess. After his death, his nipples may have been cut to mark him as a rejected ruler, says Kelly-in ancient Ireland a king's subjects ritually demon strated their submission by sucking on the rul er's nipples. Then his body was hacked to pieces and sown along the border of the kingdom, his arms threaded with withies to confer protective magic that would guard the territory. Science can't prove Kelly's scenario. Other researchers say, for example, that the bog rather than the killers might be responsible for the damage to Oldcroghan Man's nipples; his waterlogged body was as fragile as wet card board. And even if Kelly is right about the royal status of Irish bog bodies, people on the Continent had a different culture-Germanic rather than Celtic-chiefs instead of kings, and, almost certainly, other rites of sacrifice. Bodies still lying undiscovered in the bogs of northern Europe will yield more clues about how and why the bog people met their ends. But new finds are likely to be rare and often damaged when they are ripped from the earth by peat cut ters and backhoes. Lynnerup, who has applied the most power ful science available to the secrets of Grauballe Man and who can call up three-dimensional images of the body's bones and muscles and ten dons on his computer, doesn't mind the linger ing mysteries. "Strange things happen in the bog. There will always be some ambiguity." Lynnerup smiles. "I sort of like the idea that there's just some stuff we'll really never know." 0 k Haunting Remains Learn more about bog-body mysteries and hear photographer Robert Clark talk about his images at ngm.com/0709.