|Tollund Man, found in a bog in Denmark|
Peat is a brown, soil-like material that forms from decaying plant matter in a wetland whose water is acidic. The acidic environment inhibits nutrients and therefore limits the flora and fauna usually found in either bodies of water or fields. Peat can be cut into blocks, dried, and burned as fuel. Peat bogs are found in temperate latitudes. Some of the largest peat bogs are found in Siberia (1,000,000 square km), souther South America (44,000 square km), and the Democratic Republic of Congo (130,000 square km).
The acidic and oxygen-poor environment, and the tannic acids that develop from the slowly decaying plant matter (usually mosses), helps to preserve organic material—so much so, that over 500 bodies have been found in bogs, remarkably intact (not just skin, but also hair and stomach contents) and ready for analysis. Tollund Man, found in Denmark in 1950, still has a three-days growth of beard. (Ironically, the "tougher" teeth and bones are more susceptible to being dissolved by acid.)
Even their clothing is preserved. Huldremose Woman, found in Denmark in 1879, had a leather cape and woolen scarf that clearly were not made in Denmark.
Many of these are assumed to have been human sacrifice, especially because so many are found with slashed throats, or with rope around their necks. Of course, they could also simply be the end result of treating criminals. A bog body found in Donegal, Ireland dates to the 1500s, and is believed to be a suicide. Because suicide was forbidden by the Church, perhaps her body was thrown into the bog because proper Christian burial was denied to her for her sin.
Not all finds in the ground are bodies, however. Next we will talk about some of the medieval treasures that have been dug up.