The ‘bog bodies’ of north-western Europe have captured the imagination of poets as much as archaeologists, confronting us with human remains where time has stopped – allowing us to come ‘face to face’ with individuals from the past. Their exceptional preservation allows us to examine unprecedented details of both their lives and deaths, making us reflect poignantly upon our own mortality. Yet this book argues that they must be resituated within a turbulent world of endemic violence and change, reinterpreting the latest Continental research and new discoveries in this light. The book features a ground-breaking ‘cold case’ forensic study of Worsley Man: Manchester Museum’s ‘bog head’ and brings the bogs to life through both natural history and folklore, as places that were rich, fertile, yet dangerous. Finally, it argues that these remains do not just pose practical conservation problems but philosophical dilemmas, compounded by the critical debate on if – and how – they should be displayed, with museum exemplars drawn from across the globe
Bog bodies have inspired poets, authors, artists and musicians, exerting a power over the present that is unique in archaeology. This chapter features some of the best-known examples, examining why they have caught the public imagination and how they can be used to talk to us about issues in the present, confirming their status not only as archaeological icons but moving individuals whose lives and deaths have much to teach us about human nature.
This chapter discusses the phenomenon of bogs in the wider context of later prehistoric wetlands. What makes these places unique? How were they perceived and used by those communities? Rejecting the notion of them as mere marginal zones, it conjures their pivotal role as landscapes rich in craft and building materials, ore, fuel, fodder and fowl. Through the use of archival material it examines the disputes fought over rights to use them, the difficulty in mapping them and the folklore associated with their strange properties – ghost or corpse lights, boggarts and ‘hell holes’. It uses ethnography to capture some of the uncanny properties, as well as the dangers of being in the bog, driven by the rewards of the turf.
This chapter presents a critical historiography of bog body discovery, from medieval allusions to well-preserved bodies, to seventeenth-century accounts of peat diggers’ finds and eighteenth-century displays of the dead, exhibited by early antiquarians. It argues that we need to appreciate how marvellous preservation was conceptualised in each of these eras, to understand the fate of their remains and the uses to which they were put. It thus examines the changing meaning and significance of such bodies, from icons of national identity in nineteenth-century Denmark to stigmatised victims in Nazi Germany and celebrated ‘Celtic’ princes in neo-pagan Britain. Finally, it foregrounds the forensic trope that dominates contemporary analysis, relating this to the real and suspected murder victims, ancient and modern, found in the mosses and bogs.
Academic research has questioned the ethics of displaying such visceral and disquieting remains, especially when they have died very violently. Yet the general public are often firmly attached to their local ‘bog body’, giving them personal names and petitioning vigorously for their repatriation to local museums (as in the case of Lindow Man). This chapter will present a critical review of how different museums display their bog bodies and illustrate ‘best practice’ examples and novel museological interpretive strategies: defending the importance of keeping bog bodies on display to open up conservations about death, loss and mortality.
This chapter reflects on Scaldaferri’s research experience in Basilicata over a period of thirty years, examining in particular the role of his music-making activity as a form research in sound. Scaldaferri’s activity as a zampogna player represented a constant opportunity to interact and dialogue with local musicians and, through them, with local communities. Both within the Arbëresh minority from which the author originates and in the wider context of the region, research took the form of constant participation in religious festivals, pilgrimages and collective rituals. The chapter problematises performance-based research by a native researcher, describing his shifting positionality and interventionist approach to musical traditions often undergoing marked decline. Performed sound has not just been the medium in which the research was carried out, but became a form of representation that went beyond traditional textual formats through collaborations with local performers or international artists and composers. Some of these collaborations, with local institutions, resulted in forms of repatriation of the outcomes of the research, which often were integrated in the local politics of heritage.
Having explored what people might have taken from the bog, this chapter examines what they left, in terms of non-human deposits from the bog. It reviews some of the most spectacular bog offerings – wagons, chariotry and horse gear, weapons and cauldrons – as well as the mundane – agricultural tools, foodstuffs, cloth and jewellery, even hair. The chapter will focus on the phenomena of bog butter and consider if this reveals a knowledge of the preservative properties of the bog. Having conjured the range of depositions made, it will then consider how we interpret these acts: were they gifts or exchanges with supernatural beings, gods or deities? Or do we need to de-sacralise our interpretations and accept that it was in the act of giving up that things achieved their true value in a shifting and threatening world. Finally, it will end with the phenomenon of the bog figures, to reflect on these ideas and make the bridge with the real bodies found in their depths.
Setting the scene for the monograph, this short chapter outlines the importance of the study, its original approach and its timely significance: synthesising and critically evaluating the latest finds from north-western Europe as well as presenting for the first time the original forensic analysis of Manchester’s bog head ‘Worsley Man’, which forms the epicentre of the book. Taking a ‘biographical’ approach to these iconic human remains, the monograph is the first to study the whole life cycle of a bog body: from discovery to conservation, analysis and interpretation, to their exhibition and display, as well as creative ‘afterlife’ in wider cultural imagination. It argues that bog bodies are not a coherent phenomenon representing human sacrifice in later prehistory but instead represent a range of different identities, histories and ends, even if many of these are violent. Ultimately the book defends the special significance of the bog both in terms of its preservative properties and its role as a place rich in resources but animate and dangerous, in the minds of Iron Age and early Roman communities in north-western Europe.
The introduction delineates the main approach of the book to the relationship between sound and local identities, building on classic studies on sound and society and on the latest perspectives on acoustemology, place and relatedness. It starts from Murray Schafer’s approach to soundscapes and Steven Feld’s anthropology of sound to state the fundamental premise that in a soundscape both resonate and are shaped social practices, ideologies and politics. The introduction also provides a basic presentation of Basilicata, its history of social research and the ways this has shaped imaginaries on the region on a national level. Fundamental to the creation of these imaginaries were works in literature, film and photography that often took inspiration from ethnographic research. In particular, a body of anthropological research developed mostly during the 1950s, especially that produced by Ernesto De Martino and his school, today has created a canon and a lexicon that are used commonly in the region’s cultural initiatives, on both an institutional and a local level. Through brief examples the introduction describes how anthropological knowledge has gone through processes of re-signification and is used for promotion of tourism and local identities. Finally, the introduction describes how the book combines text, the images and the sound recordings, and guides the reader in approaching these components.