Blogging Glob’s “Bog People” bog

He is not dead, but sleeping

P.V. Glob, tr. Bruce-Mitford, The Bog People, 1965/1969.

Without having read it, I’ve been citing this bog (“book” = “bog” in Danish) for years now just for the euphony, and now I can trump that.

Even without the snappy title the book would be intrinsically worth reading, if only for the 64 pages of well-done black and white pictures of ~ 2,000 years old human sacrifices and other relics. Ideal bog conditions (not every bog will do) have preserved many bodies so well that they’re often thought to be recent murder victims, and one body was successfully fingerprinted. Such finds are common in Denmark, neighboring areas of Germany and the Netherlands, and parts of the British Isles (but not Sweden or Norway).

Glob’s archaeology is presumably out of date (too much mutterrecht, for one thing), but his history of how these discoveries have been handled in Denmark over the centuries is interesting.  In every era the police have usually been called first, with the local priest called next during  the earliest period, either to give the bodies a Christian burial or to exorcise them. During the 19th century bodies were sometimes treated as curiosities and could become circus exhibits,  but nowadays everything is routinely handled by scientists.

In 1950s a tabloid newspaper claimed that the recently-discovered  Tollund Man was a recent murder victim, but that hooplah died down once the radiocarbon dating came in.  In one instance the railway freight agent rather unreasonably insisted on charging the high fresh-cadaver price for the shipment of a bog body, even though it was encased in a much larger quantity of peat, which ships much more cheaply. (This will remind some Americans of an old humor piece, “Pigs is pigs”, in which a railway agent charges the per-hog price for shipping guinea pigs.)

Sinister bogs figure in Ibsen’s Peer Gynt, Hamsun’s Mysteries, and presumably many other Scandinavian literary works. And since Christ’s death on the cross was an atonement and substitute for this kind of spring sacrifice, my post is timely.


Published in: on April 5, 2010 at 7:17 pm  Comments (6)