Punishment and sacrifice

Throughout the years, there have been many explanations for bog bodies. Were they people who had wandered into the bog accidentally and drowned? Or had they died of natural causes and were they just buried in a strange place? Maybe people tried to remove potentially ‘dangerous’ people or social outcasts from the community by burying them in bogs? Or were bog bodies high status people, kings even, sacrificed to ensure fertility and define land boundaries?


It is unlikely that there is one explanation for all bog bodies. It may be that some of the bodies found are people who drowned, or were buried in a strange location. Yet many others, including Grauballe Man, bear the unmistakable marks of having been violently killed before being placed in the bog. For these people, punishment, sacrifice, or a combination of these two seem the most likely explanation.

The punishment theory relies heavily on the writings of the Roman authors like Tacitus, who describes how cowards and vicious people are “drowned in miry swamps”. The treatment of many bog bodies, including the violence used to kill them and their nakedness might support this interpretation.

Or sacrifice?

Professor P.V. Glob was one of the first to suggest that bog bodies were the remains of people who were purposely killed and offered to the gods. He argues that Roman accounts of the people living in north-western Europe, in combination with many archaeological finds, demonstrate that human sacrifice occurred in later prehistoric north-western Europe. We need to be careful with Roman sources as they are often biased and reworked in the medieval period. Yet even if we ignore them, many bog bodies share characteristics that demonstrate they were indeed sacrificial victims, deliberately killed and offered to the gods.

But why were bogs chosen as the final resting place of these people? And why were they sacrificed in the first place? Click here to find out more.