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
something like ‘I am it’ or ‘I am you’. Like the work of art, the bog body asks to be contemplated; it eludes the biographical and enters the realm of the aesthetic. (Heaney 1999 : 4)
The matter of the bog
Bog bodies are the most recognisable faces of prehistoric peoples from northern Europe, giving them international stature. Their preservedremains are the result of a unique natural phenomenon that provides archaeologists with unparalleled insights into the lives and deaths of people from the past. Aspects of appearance, dress, disease and trauma can be examined in
ambition to protect and preserveremains of the past that modernisation is threatening directly, or risks abandoning as useless relics. Shortly after the adoption of the Convention came the turning point of the Oil Crisis of 1973–1974, which marked the end of the economic boom, and of optimism, in the West.
Consequently, the situation had changed when the Convention was to be implemented in practice with the inscription of the first World Heritage sites in 1978. The UK, the former colonial great power, was in an economic and political crisis in the 1970s because of
skeleton, it can strip back the veneer of difference to remind us of our common humanity: ‘an uncritical, unvarnished truth of what lies beneath all of the things that seem so important in life – skin colour, fat, scars, beauty, ugliness, difference. The skeleton represents life at its most universal, stripped of the differences that can divide the living’ (from the ‘Yes, We Should Display Human Remains’ section of Alberti et al. 2009 : 133). Fleshed and well-preservedremains are somewhat different, as Chapter 3 has discussed, confronting the visitor with the
water was involved in the process of preservation, the results of immersion were not constant or predictable.
Such observations led these authors to make comparisons with other well-preservedremains – the Grewelthorpe Moor bog body was described as ‘tanned and dried in a remarkable manner, somewhat like an Egyptian mummy’ (Lukis 1892 : ix). Leigh ( 1700 : 64) (who noted almost in passing the discovery of bodies ‘entire and uncorrupted’ from the bogs of Cheshire and Lancashire) notes the peculiar power of a ‘bituminous Turf’ from Hasil (near Ormskirk) that was
Glyndwr rebellion (Anon. 1977 ). Its central concern was an understanding of the turbulence through which English Christianity had emerged, providing cautionary context to the later medieval rebellion that was unfolding around the author. But what interests us here is an overlooked passage concerning well-preservedremains. Like the disruptive effect of the body revealed in the poem, its opening lines disorientate the reader in time and disabuse them of any simple, linear history (Schwyzer 2006 : 4). Set in the Anglo-Saxon period, lines 43–158 tell of the destruction
efforts? Is the expansion a symptom of a chronic nostalgia in a society in crisis, which creates an increasing need? Or is the expansion an expression of a growing moral duty to tell about, remember, or preserveremains of previous generations? Is it thus to be interpreted as an expression of progress or as a sign of decay? Are we witnessing people’s increasing ability to tell about, remember, and preserve – or have people lost the ability to be silent, forget, and lose? Why not permit silence, oblivion, and impermanence? Why not simply let the past remain the past
heritage concept, we can follow the development of what is designated by the concept; that is, both thinking and practice concerning the need to protect and preserveremains from the past for the future. The history of preservation from Antiquity to the present is very clearly set out in narratives intended to legitimise current antiquarian legislation and institutions.
Over time, changing concepts have been used to designate what is to be protected and preserved: antiquities, historic monuments, and heritage. In From Antiquities to Heritage (2014), the cultural
and Neave’s groundbreaking facial reconstruction work, Worsley Man had featured in a small, corridor-length display on the art of this technique, in which a panel evoked the particular power of the bog, and the waxwork model was displayed alongside the preservedremains. Yet in 2007, as preparations were being made to host a return visit of Lindow Man, there began to emerge a growing discomfort in the display of human remains by a small number of the public but also professional curators. Worsley Man – the real head – disappeared, to be replaced by one of the
arouses distaste is the new role of the museums as a mass medium, the bringing to life of a reconstructed past, the shift in emphasis from education to entertainment and consumption, from the elevated to the everyday, from texts to images and materiality, from the authentic to replicas, and from older periods to modernity, the present, and the future. It can also be noted that whereas museums are perceived as a sign of crisis, archives and libraries hardly ever are, even though they also protect and preserveremains of the past.
Clearly, then, the crisis stems not