National Geographic : 1954 Mar
Careful hands covered the body again with peat, cut free the section on which it lay, and placed it in a wooden case. Thus the body was transported to the National Mu seum in Copenhagen (K0benhavn). Putting Clue and Clue Together Then began the scientific investigation of this 2,000-year-old murder mystery. An cient historical documents were searched, and accounts of similar discoveries were hunted up in the files of the museum. In the last 200 years about 100 such bodies have been discovered in peat bogs within the Northern European cultural area, which in the Iron Age covered Denmark, northwest Germany, and the Netherlands. Most belong to the Early Iron Age, around the beginning of the Christian Era, though some are later, a few dating from the Middle Ages. Some of the victims undoubtedly were criminals who had been executed by being tossed into lakes or swamps, a custom men- tioned by writers of this period. The Roman historian, Tacitus, for example, writing of the German tribes shortly before A. D. 100, tells how their laws allotted different modes of execution to different types of crime: "Traitors and deserters are hanged on trees; cowards, shirkers, and the unnaturally vicious are drowned in miry swamps under a cover of wattled hurdles. The distinction in the punishment implies that deeds of vio lence should be paid for in the full glare of publicity, but that deeds of shame should be suppressed." The bodies found in the peat bogs do not entirely agree with this account, doubtless because the Germanic tribes probably had varying laws and customs. The important point, however, is that the custom of sinking criminals in bogs was definitely known. Other victims were suicides and witches. To prevent their return to haunt the sur vivors, each was pinned to the ground with a stake or forked sticks.