Bogs, bog bodies and bog finds

Bog bodies like Grauballe Man fit into a tradition of votive offering in bogs across north-western Europe. He and other bog bodies represent the ultimate offer that people could make to the gods, either to ask for help, or as a form of thanksgiving.

Bog use in the Iron Age

Today many bogs have disappeared completely as a result of extensive peat digging and drainage, but in the Iron Age about 25% of the land in north-western Europe was covered in bogs, lakes and other wetland areas. Whilst we think of bogs as scary, wet places that should be avoided, past people saw these landscapes as resource rich environments where they could find clean water, cut peat for fuel and hunt and gather useful plant and animals. Moreover, bogs provided good grazing ground and bog iron (an iron deposit which naturally forms in bogs), and they could be used for the watering and seasoning of wood and timber, the curing of leather and even the storage of foodstuffs like butter. Thus, these landscapes were not feared or avoided. On the contrary, people were drawn to them and in some cases even decided to inhabit them.

Sacred and mundane

Some of the finds from bogs in north-western Europe may relate to these more practical, everyday activities. But other finds, including bog bodies, are harder to explain. These finds include a wide range of objects and materials, including pots of food, animal remains, agricultural tools, wagon parts, personal possessions and even human hair braids. These items may be found by themselves, but some were placed near fertility symbols erected in the form of wooden figures shaped like phalluses or female genitalia. These finds reflect that bogs, in addition to being resource rich landscapes, were also sacred places where people communicated with the gods by making offerings. Perhaps the mirroring surface of the water represented a boundary to another world – the world of gods and spirits.