Disquieting exhibits
Displaying the dead
in Bog bodies

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.

Introduction: ‘exposed for a sight’

The first attested ‘exhibiting’ of bog bodies appears to be the Hope couple, who died in a snowstorm in the Peak District of northern Britain in 1674 (see Chapter 2). Following their burial on the spot when the snow had melted, they lay undisturbed in the ‘peat moss’ for ‘twenty-eight years and nine months’ when the curiosity of the locals got the better of them. Dr Charles Balguy, the medic from Peterborough who had grown up in Hope, attributes this interest to the parishioners’ knowledge of peat’s preservative properties. Once the marvel of their flesh and clothing had been seen, their fame spread, and as Balguy (1735: 413–14) puts it, ‘They were afterwards exposed for a Sight 20 Years, though they were much changed in that time’. The vicar Wormald, who would later inter them in Hope’s churchyard (once the grazier’s appalled grandson had coughed up the fee) told the antiquarian Samuel Pegge that ‘they were expos’d to ye view of people who came every summer to see them for the space of 20 years longer’ (Wormald’s affidavit of 1758: see Figure 2.2, Derbyshire Record Office manuscript ref. D1828/P1 449/3). As with the Drumkeeragh bog body seventy years later, visitors took curios or souvenirs, particularly ‘relics’ of clothing, and their disproportionate interest in the corpse of the young woman exacerbated her decay. One of those visitors was Dr Bourn of Chesterfield, who in 1716, as we have learned, pocketed one of the woman’s teeth as well as sending his account to Balguy (1735: 414)! Wormald himself attended their final exhumation in 1722 (‘I had the Curiosity myself to go to the place & see ’em taken up’ (Wormald’s affidavit of 1758: see Figure 2.2, Derbyshire Record Office manuscript ref. D1828/P1 449/3), yet even when they had been buried in consecrated ground, they were not safe from prying eyes. The local clerics could not resist a final look: Balguy (1735: 414) ends his account by adding ‘where upon looking into the Grave some time afterwards, it was found that they were entirely consumed’.

The Hope couple were not the only bog bodies to be exhumed and reburied only to be de-interred. Gallagh Man from Ireland, found in 1821, was also repeatedly lifted back out of the peat to be ‘gawped at’ (Raftery 1994: 188), while the Korselitse bog body from Denmark who had been given Christian burial after his discovery in 1843, was re-exhumed at the behest of the crown prince, and sent for analysis to the National Museum (van der Sanden 1996: 41). There is thus a long history of fascinated viewing of the bog body phenomenon. As we have seen, Glob’s strategic display of Grauballe Man in 1952 transformed not just public awareness of this phenomenon but normalised the display of human remains in Danish museums (Asingh and Lynnerup 2007). Yet in the UK at least, we have passed through a generation of critique about where bog bodies should ‘live’ after discovery (as we have seen in the last chapter) and whether they should even be on open display (Giles 2009; Jenkins 2011). Most bog body books end where the last chapter finished, with a mix of pragmatic and philosophical musings on who they were and why they died. Yet this book sets out to chart their ‘afterlife’ from the moment of discovery, the peeling back of the peat, through conservation, analysis and archaeological interpretation, to the creative legacy they have indelibly imprinted upon our cultural imagination. The missing stage is how we encounter them and so this chapter addresses the environment in which that one-to-one experience usually first occurs: the museum gallery.

Instead of a historiography of different displays (which are unfortunately often poorly archived) this chapter focuses on the difficult questions relating to their exhibition. Are there some things that are best not seen, not just for aesthetic reasons but due to the nature of the brutal death these individuals suffered? Do we run the risk of ‘instilling apathy’ or inuring the public to prehistoric practices that should still shock, appal and move us, as Sontag (2003) worries? Or perhaps worse, exoticising and othering these practices: legitimising the image that the classical authors constructed of the northern tribes as innately violent, hyper-martial barbarians? Redfern and Fibiger (2019) exhort archaeologists to think carefully about the popularity of remains that exhibit evidence for violence and how this can sometimes lead to misuse in the media. If we are to display bog bodies – and this chapter robustly defends that practice – then we must do it well and think critically about how we orchestrate encounters, evoke both trauma and humanity and provide context to this violence.

Corporeal aesthetics and affect: should bog bodies be on display?

On the opening night of ‘Lindow Man: A Bog Mystery’ in 2008, I spoke quietly with one of the contributors, Emma Restell Orr, a modern pagan and founder of ‘HAD: Honouring the Ancient Dead’ (Restell Orr 2004). Lindow Man was on his third northern tour (having previously visited in 1987 and 1991), in what had become a bit of an archaeological pilgrimage between the British Museum and the Manchester Museum. This act of cultural reciprocity was designed to address the deep feelings of ownership or responsibility for his remains felt by Cheshire and Lancashire inhabitants (see Chapter 7; see also Joy 2014b). In a controversial step, the exhibition had chosen not to foreground the story of Lindow Man himself, although forensic detail, landscape context and the phenomenon of watery deposition were conveyed through loaned metalwork, expert interviews, peat spades and a stuffed bittern. Instead, its motif was to ask: ‘What does Lindow Man mean to you?’ (Sitch 2010). The testimonies from forensic scientists, field archaeologists and curators were set against those of a child who had sung in the ‘Lindow Man We Want You Back Again!’ campaign (Susan Chadwick: now an adult still living in the region) and the insights from contemporary pagan advocacy groups, for whom Lindow Man was seen as a spiritual ancestor (Restell Orr 2008). The exhibition was judged a technical success (Burch 2008): it won two major awards and attracted over 160,000 visitors but aspects of the aesthetics and layout, as well as the decision to platform this particular pagan perspective so prominently in the exhibition, were controversial (see Merriman et al. 2008; Schofield 2008; Sitch 2009). In terms of design, the MDF shelving units were apparently influenced by the Landesmuseum Natur und Mensch in Oldenberg, who display their bog bodies (Neu England Man, Bockhornerfeld Man and Husbäke Man) almost in situ. Their glass ‘coffins’ (a ‘sleeping beauty’ effect?) are set within wall-high, earth-art bog strata, moving down through the scraw of top turf, to the black peat of well-rotted Sphagnum. As Sanders (2009: 172) comments, these are installations that are thresholds, where the archaeological specimen and landscape art meld, such that the remains almost disappear back into the bog (Joy 2014b). Yet the raw, unfinished shelving of Manchester did not (for me at least) conjure bog stratigraphy but rather museum store or archive. Perhaps that too is fitting, but a sense of landscape was arguably lost here. Meanwhile, the body was presented quite suddenly, without warning, in direct juxtaposition to the pagan perspective: a relationship that must have been deliberate. Jenkins (2011) has written critically about letting what she sees as a marginal voice dominate such museum practice, arguing that this marks a failure of ‘curatorial confidence’. Conversely, Exell (2016) criticises the failure of the public consultation, arguing that the views of one or two dominant and powerful voices within the museum held sway at the expense of more consensual views. The paradigm of museum practice has arguably shifted since then; co-production of exhibitions is now a standard method for incorporating a plurality of views but the risk is that voices that think they have been heard – public and professional – get lost in the process. In the midst of the opening night hubbub, Restell Orr’s feelings were clear: ‘He should not be here’, she said, ‘he should be back in the bog’ (see Restell Orr 2008; Restell Orr and Bienkowski 2006a, 2006b).

As we have seen in Chapter 4, mosses like Lindow were being cut for peat from at least the Iron Age, and it is only now that active extraction is ceasing, under a modern planning compromise that has seen the granting of housing applications on its fringe in exchange for the re-wetting and long-term restoration of the bog (Transition Wilmslow 2019). Lindow Man could go ‘back’ into this new bog but he will never be able to return to the locale in which he was originally interred. This call for the ‘repatriation and reburial’ of prehistoric remains in the UK has been spurred by the laudable empowerment of indigenous communities to request the return of cultural remains (and some artefacts) acquired through questionable colonial collecting practices (Fforde 1997; Moshenska 2009). One of the key tenets here is that such communities must be able to demonstrate proven ancestral connections and living concerns to this heritage. British archaeologists have thus questioned the ‘authenticity’ of the British neo-pagan claim to prehistoric remains compared with these indigenous and First Nations rights (e.g. Thackray and Payne 2008; Jenkins 2011; Moshenska et al. 2011). The neo-pagan community point to the cultural and religious bias in the treatment of human remains in the UK: at present, Christians of all eras are not just entitled but legally required to be reburied after they have been appropriately recorded (unless special sanction is given, see Tatham 2016), while ‘pagan’ burials or body parts are usually licensed to remain above ground in museums and archival stores (Randerson 2007; see also Sayer 2010; Giles and Williams 2016). Most archaeologists see these assemblages as vital to the understanding of ancient populations, enabling researchers to undertake longitudinal studies of origin, mobility, disease and well-being, gender relations, religious beliefs and (particularly important for bog bodies) cultural studies of violence (e.g. Mays 2008; see also papers in Lohman and Goodnow 2006).

Yet do we have the right to display them? Alberti et al. (2009: 140) cite the Vermillion Accord (Clause 2), which states that the wishes of the dead (ancient or modern) should be respected where they can be ‘known or reasonably inferred’ – unfortunately the pressures of the contemporary planning and extraction industries often tear the dead out of the place they probably intended to lie in for perpetuity. We have little option but to receive their remains. They are also concerned by the absence of consent, so fundamental to the retention of recent human remains but awkwardly unobtainable for the past. Yet as Sontag (2003: 113) puts it, at the end of Regarding the Pain of Others:

The dead are supremely uninterested in the living: in those who took away their lives; in witnesses – and in us. Why should they seek our gaze? What would they have to say to us? ‘We’ – this ‘we’ is everyone who has never experienced anything like what they went through – don’t understand. We don’t get it. We truly can’t imagine what it was like.

We must accept that displaying the dead is not ultimately ‘for the dead’: it is for ourselves, to learn more about humanity (and indeed, inhumanity). Most pressingly then, we need to answer the question posed by J. D. Hill (the curator who engaged with Hutton’s critique of Lindow Man, see Chapter 7): ‘What is it that you can say about the past … which you can only say by having human remains on display?’ (cited in Alberti et al. 2009: 139). For most people in Britain, the museum is the first context in which we will encounter human remains and confront mortality (Giles 2009: 95). Visiting such a museum hopefully creates an experience where we emerge more grateful for the power of antibiotics, mindful of diverse beliefs, impressed by ancient skills (the beauty of grave goods for instance, the impressiveness of a funeral), yet more aware of the human capacity for violence and self-reflective about our own privilege (Schofield 2008). Some would argue that a copy, a simulacrum, a reproduction will suffice, avoiding the perturbing effect of actually seeing a ‘corpse’. Yet if we never show human remains we perpetuate the notion that they should not be seen, and we reproduce yet another generation distanced from dying and loss (Sayer 2010; Croucher et al. 2019). We lock away, we archive, death. In the UK at least, most of the public expect to see the ‘real thing’, revelling in the ‘magical’ or ‘spiritually enchanting’ aura of something that thwarts time: of being in the presence of the past (Jones 2010; Fredengren 2016; Nordström 2016). Of course, we need to foreground the methods through which we come to tell the stories of human remains; the dead do not speak for themselves, despite appearing to have a self-evidential power (Crossland 2009). We also need to acknowledge the limits of interpretation and the failures of science, as Chapter 6 has sought to expose (an important point made by Hutton 2004b). Yet that mortal evidence – of disenfranchisement and disease or of privilege and power over another human being – should be kept, cared for and shown, even where those stories are partial, tentative or uncomfortable. Apart from the biological instruction imparted by a 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-preserved remains are somewhat different, as Chapter 3 has discussed, confronting the visitor with the disconcerting, disruptive ‘uncanny’ or ‘abject’ (Sanders 2009; Giles 2013), threatening both the temporal distance and the sanitising containment that a gallery case normally promises (Goodnow 2006). For Restell Orr (2008) this made her final encounter with Lindow Man shocking, seeing ‘his mutilated body, deep brown, his foot at an angle, his blank expression … like that of a man utterly broken … I felt as if I had just witnessed an assault’. Similar ambiguity arose in the international touring exhibition entitled ‘The Mysterious Bog People’ (a collaboration between one German, one Dutch and two Canadian museums, see Bergen et al. 2002), which received positive reviews across northern Europe but encountered difficulties on its Canadian leg, where (despite consultation with First Nations groups) public opinion was split (Gill-Robinson 2004). Vocal critics saw this as an abhorrent exhibition of ‘rotting corpses’, ‘despicable’ and ‘disrespectful’ not just in its displays but its merchandising of the ancient dead (cited in Gessel 2002). This brings us back to ideas regarding the unnerving encounters generated by bog bodies: their ‘fleshiness and overt corporeality’ (Sanders 2009: 50), their unsettling similitude yet difference from both the living and the dead (Wallace 2004). Even Freud seemed keen to repress this ‘black tide’ of visceral and violated dead. The British pagan community is by no means united on this front: many support the sensitive display of human remains (Vaswani 2001; Rathouse 2016) even if the notion of what is and is not ‘respectful’ is culturally contextual (Tarlow 2006). These problems take us into the territory of what has recently been conceptualised as ‘dark’ or ‘difficult’ heritage (see Sather-Wagstaff 2011; Stone et al. 2018). The exhumation and display of bog bodies has always been caught up in the visiting (personally or conceptually) of the ‘dark’ side of prehistoric death, brutality and dehumanisation. It is evident in the earliest accounts of this ‘thanatourism’ (Seaton 2009), such as the Hope couple, but what this fairly recent movement perhaps forgets is its origins in the sacredly morbid pilgrimages of the Middle Ages. As a result, modern museum curators of apparently secular collections often express conflicted emotions: ‘There is no relationship between us and these displayed dead and that lack of relationship makes it futile: in fact, it emphasises the dead as objects, as nothing to do with us’ (from the ‘No, We Should Not Display Human Remains’ section of Alberti et al. 2009: 138). This is a stinging point. In Chapter 3, I argued that it is not so much the material authenticity of archaeological remains that can generate the ineffable, enchanting and haunting encounter that connects people in the present with people from the past, but the ‘experiences and relationships that they have been a part of’ (Jones 2010: 137; see also Fredengren 2016). Is it really true that by placing them in a museum case the bog bodies are severed from those relationships? Perhaps not. Remember the Højgaard family, brought in to view the hybrid simulacrum of Tolland Man, affirming this was ‘him’. Or Valerie Hall, Don Brothwell and Rolly Reed, moved by Old Croghan Man to take his hand yet haunted by their nightmares. Bruce Mould, brother to the peat digger who found Lindow Man, connected with the fact he came from the moss and endured a hard, working life in that landscape: ‘It’s nice to know summat like you, from thousands of years ago, and [that] they lived pretty similar like us, you know’ (Bruce Mould cited in Hector 2008). Would skeletal remains have inspired this same bond? Possibly, but there is another peculiar power that the bog bodies possess that helps here: they ‘interrupt time. They thwart death. They appear to offer the potent possibility of some kind of immortality, whether in this world or the next’ (Giles 2013: 490), taking us beyond the bounds of our own mortality (Laqueur 2015). It is this very aura of defiant and recognisable humanity, I believe, which forges such close connections with the dead from the bog, evoking feelings of identification, awe and even concern at their fate. In their afterlife then, these Iron Age and Roman remains have become wrapped in new networks of care. The people whose lives they have burst into, erupting from the peat, have been moved by their encounter, whether in the midst of the bog itself, the conservation lab or the spotlight of the gallery, to attend to this life from the past. I am guided here by John Berger (1984: 21), who argued (in a thesis on poetry) that we should hold out the promise that ‘what has been experienced cannot disappear as if it has never been’. The dead may no longer ‘care’ if they were a sacrifice or execution at the time of Roman conquest but we should because it tells us about the experience of colonialism here on the ground. Exhibitions of the dead need this poetic tenet. If one of the purposes of a museum is not merely to collect, curate and conserve for some endlessly deferred future, but to challenge, inspire curiosity and connect people across time in the here and now, then arguably these displays of bog bodies can do such work.

Encountering bog bodies

The chapter now turns to the material, spatial and narrative methods through which bog bodies are currently displayed, drawing on specific examples from across northern Europe. We will begin with Lindow Man’s permanent home in the British Museum. As discussed in Chapter 3, the centrepiece display for this internationally significant find within an upper-floor atrium promoted his fame but took its toll. In 1997 he was resituated in Room 50, which spans the later prehistory of Britain. Lindow Man is now appropriately positioned at the threshold of transition into the Roman gallery, offering a last glance at the people conquered by Rome, before we are immersed in the weaponry, religious icons, dining sets and mosaics of that extraordinary empire. He is juxtaposed (across the throughfare) with another peri-Conquest body: the cremated remains from the Welwyn burial. Both men saw the coming of Rome’s government and army, one in the south (an elite figure, benefitting from trade and sociopolitical contacts with this super power) and one from the north (violently killed around the time of the military occupation of the north). Hutton ( 2004a, 2004b) may be appalled at the way in which Lindow Man appears both sequestered out of public sight and forced into the trope of ritual sacrifice, easily overlooked by the visitor who spends an average of four minutes in the whole of this room (Cecilia and Wilkin 2018). Yet this is partly a practical necessity: the ‘canopy’ over his two-sided boxed case helps control light levels but also affords a greater sense of privacy; he is now ‘gently shielded in a dark bower’, as Jones ( 2007: 24) puts it, also meeting the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) guidelines on human remains in museums (DCMS 2005: 20) that the public should not come across them ‘unawares’ (Joy 2014b). Given the ambiguity over his violent death, the hip-level captioning now reflects a plurality of interpretations, as well as providing detail on both the preservative power of the bog and the active conservation methods used to continue its work. It also brings the visitor into closer proximity with the remains, placing him not at their feet but in more of a level meeting: face to face. The backdrop is an atmospheric photograph of the warped and despoiled landscape of Lindow Moss by Stephen Vaughan (Figure 8.1). In this image, the wracked roots of the trees now erupting from the lowest levels of the moss stand as metaphor for the torn body; the incisive cut through the liquid black peat seems to thrust him anew into our midst, capturing his eruptive possibilities in the present. He lies on a bed of inert bark chippings meant to conjure the peat’s embrace of the corpse but although Lindow Man was placed prone in the bog, he has been turned over, to face the visitor (Joy 2014b: 17): inverting an act that may have been meant to shame, hide or contain this powerful body. This seems an apposite gesture that restores dignity to the corpse and encourages a new generation of connections to this man’s life and death.

More could be done, as Joy (2014b: 17) acknowledges, but what the British Museum achieves in microcosm, the National Museum of Ireland achieves on a grander scale. The driving narrative for its exhibition ‘Kingship and Sacrifice’ is that of Kelly’s (2006) hypothesis that these remains represent the offering up of a failed leader to the land to which they were symbolically ‘wedded’, in order to inaugurate a new reign. While this is a rather specific interpretation, it is contextualised in one of the fullest displays of offerings to the bog found in any museum: showcasing shields, bog figures and bog butter, jewellery, vessels, skin capes and personal ornaments. There is a rich aesthetic of bog wood (with sculpted pillars echoing the warped figures from Corlea or Kilbeg), peat-brown floors and white walls, evoking the stark contrast of bog and sky. Its spatial design was driven by the decision that visitors should be able to choose whether they see the bog bodies or not (Mulhall and Briggs 2007: 75). Funerary rituals in Ireland, as well as the longevity of Catholic relations with ‘sacred’ human remains, means that there is a bolder and more visceral bond with the dead in this country, yet the museum shows an awareness that not everyone will want to see the corpses of those who died such a violent death. For such individuals, a simple black-and-white line drawing of part of the body, and a fulsome osteobiography panel on the exterior of the curved white pods, allows them to learn about the lives of these people without having to enter into their presence. The curved ammonite shell does, however, encourage entry for the curious, drawing the visitor with a slight ramp effect into a wood-panelled alcove, where an inbuilt bench allows them to sit, examine and contemplate (Figure 8.2; see Giles 2009: 92). No further information is offered within these small coves, and they only permit a handful of visitors at any one time, enhancing the sense of a personal encounter (Mulhall and Briggs 2007). That wider context is not missing: multimedia screens, interviews and wall panels provide great detail on the bog, peat preservation, conservation and forensic analysis, which ‘wrap’ the exterior walls of the exhibition hall. Dublin thus produces a ‘nested’ experience of encounter, from the archaeological frame to the deeply personal. The only slightly disconcerting effect is the case in which each body rests: backlit on a light turquoise panel that throws the remains into sharp light. This can seem a little forensic, like a mortuary slab. Nonetheless, being able to draw your own hand close to the curled fingers of Old Croghan Man himself, with only a sheet of glass between your fingertips is a moving experience (Figure 8.3).

This choice of whether or not to see the remains is also managed with Tolland Man at Silkeborg Museum in Denmark. Before you reach him, the gallery conjures daily life, settlement, dress, clothing, food, craftwork and weaponry in the Iron Age. This is later prehistoric life at its fullest and richest, drawing on evidence from the bog bodies but deploying them to conjure a sense of the vivid, impressive and skilful communities of the time. A replica of a wagon, a chainmail shirt, colourful reproductions of cloth and contrastive hairstyles use experimental archaeology to re-presence the world that is preserved only through the power of the peat. Elling Woman is here, lying under the capes and garments that covered her remains. However, new interactive displays allow the visitor to interrogate the archaeological evidence without having to see Tolland Man himself. There is a three-dimensional reproduction of the head with its hat and an oversized ‘tablet’ table and screen, allowing multiple levels of investigation into different areas of analysis, layered to allow superficial and deeper levels of research. From schoolchild to adult learner this medium is perfectly tailored to meet the current generation’s familiarity with this enquiry method. Yet this screen has a wonderful aesthetic: in quiet mode, small motes float across it – dust or pollen, tufts of bog cotton, midges or miniature ignis fatuus, the viewer is not sure, but it creates an ethereal and other-worldly sense of time both passing and standing still. The final encounter with Tolland Man happens in an apsidal end space, subconsciously evoking the religious setting for a relic. Yet here, the wall once more conjures the landscape of the bog through almost life-size black-and-white images, with stark birch trees and upright bog posts seeming to hide faces in their patterns, while the tussocks and bog pools reflect the winter sky (Figure 8.4). The case, which can be walked around completely, once more lifts Tolland Man up into an equal relationship with the viewer. The back wall provides a summary of his life and death, the programme of analysis and conservation history, but as we have seen in Chapter 3, the visitor’s attention is not overtly drawn to the hybrid simulacrum represented here; an encounter with the art of the bog and the art of the museum reconstruction team is presented as one. Although hanged, the narrative here is one of respect for the dead with a strong sense of ritual sacrifice.

The Moesgaard Museum at Aarhus, meanwhile, places that narrative of the necessary offering of things to the bog front and foremost (see Chapter 4). The dripping rain rods from the roof, the dark canopy of a night sky and the trembling floor unsettle the visitor, creating an unease meant to mimic the environmental crisis faced by these farming communities. Art is used evocatively here to create a sense of landscape with cut-out metal tree silhouettes and light art conjuring rippling pools opening and closing over a deposit. Hip-level cases present the range of mundane and spectacular things given up to the bog – a braid of hair, a bog dog, jewellery and weapons – while moving graphics on the wall offer speculative, interpretive stories that explain these ‘gifts’. A woman cuts off her own hair to lower it in thanksgiving, the dog is dressed in a garland of flowers while a gang of men plan and carry out a violent raid and offer up a humiliated captive. Human life and death are drawn here as a set of necessary balances and exchanges, while the galleries that follow (on Alken Enge and Illerup) leave the visitor in no doubt about the prevalence of conflict in these communities and the importance of the ‘aftermath’ of gathering, displaying and depositing weaponry and remains. The visitor first meets Grauballe Man by being drawn to the centre of the main Iron Age gallery: a rail encourages them to stand and gaze down, as if perched on the edge of the bog, looking into the peat cutting. It establishes a relationship of power over the body that evokes both the curiosity yet detachment of the peat cutters and the archaeologist, drawn to the site (also perhaps, the authority of those executing this man and lowering him into the bog pool). That relationship is then undercut once the visitor makes their way down into an oval room, dimly lit, set with benches to sit and be with the body (Figures 8.5a and 8.5b). As in Ireland, there is an encouragement to attend to the corpse, as if undertaking a watch over a deceased preceding a wake or attending a funeral parlour to pay respects. As with Lindow Man, he is turned to face you and show you his wound. As with Silkeborg, you can walk around him, examine him from every angle. Time can be spent here not just talking of the dead but also, in a way, with them. Here, the context of the bog pool is evoked through a peaty bed and rough-textured concrete floor. The whole museum is subterranean, enhancing the feel of submergence and stillness: a ‘meditative nucleus’, as Sanders (2009: 179) describes it. Yet just outside of this space is the richest exposition of the discovery and conservation of a bog body seen in any museum and the history of his reception; rewrapping Grauballe Man in the archaeological and public network of relationships through which his corpse survived in its entirety, paving the way for a new approach to bog bodies.

Between these exhibits, we can see different approaches to the narrative, spatial design and encounter that is crafted with such remains. A distinction can be drawn between those institutions where the bog body might be one exhibit among many (for example, Huldremose Woman in the National Museum of Denmark, covered over by her cloaks and capes) or those where they are promoted as the main exhibit that dominates design (as in Silkeborg and Dublin). Some propose a dominant interpretive narrative (as in Dublin and Moesgaard) while other present their bodies alongside space for comment and debate; this is best exemplified in the Archäologisches Landesmuseum (Gottorf Castle) in Germany where bulletin boards encourage visitors to leave comments over whether Windeby Boy, the Rednswühren Men, Damendorf and Osterby should be on display at all (Sanders 2009: 184). Manchester Museum manufactured this in miniature in the 2008 Lindow Man display, using a small ‘comment card’ board as well as a box for contemporary ‘votive’ offerings. Most galleries use darkness, quietude, peat palettes and rough textures to instill reverence and contemplation in the visitor. We know we are in the presence of the dead. These exhibitions provide detailed forensic evidence that the audience needs to ‘re-personify and re-socialise mummies’ (Nystrom 2019: 257): recognising that they are not just biological but social beings. Yet what none of the them do particularly well is evoke the violence behind those deaths; in Schofield’s (2008) terms, they are ‘devoid of drama’, neutralising or suppressing the damage done to a human being. Given that these are public spaces we can appreciate why this might be. Yet it is an issue common not just to exhibits but images of pain and suffering more generally (Sontag 2003). Does this matter, and if so, what could be done to subtly change those displays?

Regarding the pain of others

In About Looking, the art critic and author John Berger (1980: 38) contemplates the risk posed by ‘photographs of agony’: that in viewing pain, we may be arrested or seized by the image but return to our lives feeling ‘hopelessly inadequate’. His real concern is the lack of historical context and specificity: that such images become ‘depoliticised … evidence of the human condition. It accuses nobody and everybody’ (Berger 1980: 40). These ideas were developed by Susan Sontag (2003), who attacks those images that fail to identify the victim where they are clearly known, or reduce mass violence to an othering of the body, decontextualising and devaluing not just their pain but their lives. Captions matter. Using images from conflict environments she shows how they were often used to glorify torture or massacre. They were trophies in themselves, legitimating the infliction of suffering, and were part of the means through which some lives (as in Butler’s (2010) argument) were made inhuman, ungrievable. The early Romano-British rope-bound amuletic figure from Brough-under-Stainmore (Aldhouse-Green 2002: fig. 20), the skull bowl from Stiens-Kramer on the terp of the Netherlands (Nieuwhof 2015: 266) and the Insus sculpture from Lancaster (Bull 2007) were all designed to the same end: not just modes of categorising humanity but of destroying it, negating its worth. Both subject and audience for such an image need careful identification then, as Sontag (2003: 6) insists: ‘No “we” should be taken for granted when the subject is looking at other people’s pain’. Her work builds on that of Scarry (1995) who has explored those aspects of extreme materiality that resist representation, particularly pain but also labour (and I would argue, death itself, Giles 2016b). Scarry (1995: 11) identifies the crux of the problem: it is the very unintelligibility of pain, of representing a deeply interiorised experience whose effect is to rob us of voice – to render us speechless – that is at work here. To imagine pain, she argues, we must ‘see the wound’. The imagery, text or poetry that best does this, she suggests, is that which blurs the boundary between the body and the context of that pain: the materials that cause or render suffering, or those that supplicate and tend to its effects. Bodily matter, blade edge, rope, peat, water, stakes, cape and cloak. There is no museum display that currently manages a raw and visceral evocation of the violence done to a bog body and perhaps there never will be. Yet we must try to avoid replacing ‘trauma with nostalgia’ (Sanders 2009: 34). Some details, Tarlow (2006) argues, are necessarily too painful to show, too intimate to make public. The boundary between suffering and sexual objectification is often uncomfortably blurred with bog bodies, such as the near-naked, sprawled body of what was thought to be Windeby ‘Girl’, her eyes blindfolded both to her persecutor and fate (Sanders 2009: 101; Aldhouse-Green’s 2016: front cover). The shifting of what was probably a headband to become a ‘gag’ during ‘her’ death, was then transformed by the curator to become a ‘blindfold’, supposedly to make her ‘more alluring’ (Gill-Frerking 2014: 70). This heterosexual eroticisation of the bog body is challenged by the realisation that this is, in fact, the body of a young boy. In a similar vein, van der Sanden (2005) reflects thoughtfully on the souvenirs sold to promote bog body exhibitions, appealing against the overt commercialisation of vulnerable individuals such as Yde Girl. Our relationship with bog bodies can be depicted differently. The early photograph of the Rendswühren bog body from 1873 (which Mestorf studied and interpreted as a murder victim) was probably commissioned by Handelmann and Pansch for their revision of her catalogue (van der Sanden 1996: fig. 55). The figure is posed upright, respectfully framed by a lengthy sweep of cloth (positioned like a worn cloak): a fictional repositioning of a now balletic figure that is inclined slightly, as if in thoughtful conversation with the viewer.

An additional problem, Sontag (2003) argues, is that conflict imagery may strive for the shock of immediate suffering (the striking of a bullet, the moment of death), but this it often achieved via an aesthetic that appears to undercut its reality. Such images appear to gloss pain, risking the ‘inauthenticity of the beautiful’, as she puts it (Sontag 2003: 69). What is expected is the ‘the weight of witnessing without the taint of artistry’ (Sontag 2003: 23). What museological tropes have, or could be used, to achieve this ‘witnessing’? The notion of their distance in time from us creates a buffer, argues Sanders (2009: 37). Galleries that bring you close to the wound make it difficult to look away. Grauballe Man’s ‘elderberry gash’ is at eye level, once you take the bench in Moesgaard Museum. I may have criticised the forensic-style slab upon which Old Croghan Man lay and yet by bringing the mortuary to mind, and backlighting the body, attention is focused upon the withies pushed through his arms, the slight cut across his nipples. We do not need blood or viscera to find these excoriating fleshy tears excruciating to witness. The twist of hemp around Borremose Man’s neck, or the snaking leather rope plaited around Tolland Man convulse us: we feel urged to loosen the knot, to let breath back in. ‘Let the atrocious images haunt us … they still perform a vital function’, as Sontag (2003: 102) exhorts. Meanwhile, the ‘ineffable’ or ‘enchanting’ affect of bog bodies lies in the intimate traces of humanity still visible. The fragility of nails and hair – the stubble of Lindow Man’s beard, Elling Woman’s neat plait. Worn and repaired clothing – the darning of the Hunteberg cloaks, the crudely stitched seam on Dröbnitz Girl’s skin cape. The small items of intrigue – Huldremose Woman’s comb, Old Croghan Man’s slit-braided armband. We can subvert the dehumanising effect of violence by foregrounding the traces of a recognisable life, lived and cared for. The apple pips, hazelnut shells and dried sloes of a last meal, the bodies that are barely visible under the drape of a cape, the cloaks tucked around their feet.

Humanising techniques: face to face with the past

The notion of coming face to face with people from the past has been a common motif in bog body studies at least since the discovery of Tolland Man. It is, Sanders (2009: 197) reports, by far the most commonly used phrase that surfaces in the study of bog bodies. It forms both the subtitle and the subject for this book, since it captures well the urge to come to ‘know’ an individual when this is an ontological impossibility; the world he comes from is strikingly and uncomfortably different. We are attracted not just to the physiognomy but the ‘intimate corporeal geographies’ of these faces (Sanders 2009: 197). We come close, performing a ‘double take’ that initially repels, then connects (Sanders 2009: 37), but there is still a gulf. Strange then, that a phenomenon so renowned for the preservation of the flesh should spur so many facial reconstructions over the years, as if we are consistently seeking an ever-more realistic, scientifically accurate and visually arresting image that approaches the very affect these faces already conjure – of collapsing time to allow us to meet this ‘other’. Sanders (2009: 194) locates this within a general thirst for authenticity and the peculiar problem that well-preserved remains pose in relation to this quality (see Chapter 3).

Such images of the dead are needed, we feel, partly to bridge the rift between the static body and the objective of its display – to re-humanise the deceased and bring their story ‘to life’. These visualisations have an arresting and enduring power that offers a thrill (Sanders 2009: 201), yet at their most moving can even ‘sacralise’ the past (Swain 2002). Initially, bog body reconstructions were paper-based (often depicting the whole individual as if dressed), then crafted in plaster or bronze (van der Sanden 1996: 147–8): mimicking the media of classical and historical statuary, as if to lend authority and dignity to these works. Many museums could not afford these expensive conceptualisations and opted instead for what Howard Williams (2009: 172) has dubbed the ‘living dead’: a generic stock figure, a dressed mannikin, evoking the individual in the prime of life, utilising details of artefacts and textiles to clothe and re-animate the remains (see examples in van der Sanden 1996: 147–8). The first attempt to give these depictions the specificity of personal appearance was in the early 1980s, focused on the remains of Windeby ‘Girl’ (Boy), crafted by Richard P. Helmer in Germany (van der Sanden 1996: 147). However, Helmer could not access this fragile skull – he could only use a modern cranium that was ‘similar’ to the girl’s, to act as the basis for his forensic modelling of muscle and tissue. This gap between the real remains and the reconstruction created ambiguity over the verisimilitude of the final image. Later that decade, a collaboration between medical illustrator Richard Neave and Manchester Museum curator Professor John Prag resulted in the first use of X-radiographs as a basis for facial reconstructions, modelled first in clay then cast in plaster, adding soft tissues in wax. It was based on Neave’s contemporary forensic techniques (which had solved several ‘Jane’ and ‘John Doe’ crimes in the UK), completing the reconstruction with artificial eyes and hair (Prag and Neave 1999). During the late 1980s/early 1990s, Lindow Man was completed for the British Museum and Worsley Man for the Manchester Museum (Joy 2009: 28). Neave also produced a reconstructed head of Yde Girl, using CT scans this time, which permitted digital manipulation of the peat compression damage to her skull. It is this evocative, slightly mournful looking young girl’s face that found its way on to posters and T-shirts in the international travelling exhibition ‘The Mysterious Bog People’.

Why the face? Sanders (2009: 1) begins her study of the cultural effect of bog bodies by evoking the connective power of Tolland Man’s features: the ‘emotive power of his countenance, the ease with which we identify with it, the delicate minutiae of his wrinkles, the traces of time so present in his day-old beard’. As van der Sanden (1996: 147) puts it, the face is ‘the most individual part of the body’, which most of us are hard-wired to seek out, to ‘read’ in terms of personality, temperament and emotion. Initially, such reconstructions were left in the white or brown clay or plaster to avoid reading on to the face too much specific detail. As the techniques developed, it was realised that in order to ‘cross’ that uncanny boundary between bog body and living being, the natural colours of tinted skin, hair and iris were required, yet of course, this more speculative specificity began to dramatically diminish their accuracy, ironically narrowing the connections that people can make with these past figures. Prag and Neave (1999: 170) describe being ‘ruled’ by the skull. Yet like all archaeological visualisations, they are ‘amalgams of artistic and scientific interpretation’ (Sanders 2009: 201). The bog head reconstructions quite literally ‘date’ from the time of their making: freighting these faces with assumptions about appearance (hair length and cut), state of health and lifestyle (gaunt and hungered, weather-beaten or worn out), as well as their ‘look’ moments before their imagined death (haunted, resigned, defiant, engaged). Whether they seem to gaze down to the fate that awaits them, or out across time to the viewer, makes a great difference in the impact of the reconstruction. This design process can be a very mutual one or a more isolated endeavour but it is seldom written down or published, leaving ambiguity over who decided what the head should finally ‘look like’ or what it should emote (see Giles 2016b).

An initial cast of Lindow Man’s head was finished in ‘bronzed resin’ with sightless eyes: ‘interposing a material that makes no claim to represent the flesh and the features realistically’ (Prag and Neave 1999: 164), while also aping the effect of a timeless material that evoked ‘a work of art as well as a reconstruction’ (Prag and Neave 1999: 165). Yet they admitted that in adding the details of hair and eye colour, ‘Lindow Man comes to life’ (Prag and Neave 1999: 165). In fact, the reconstructed heads of Lindow Man and Worsley Man bear an uncanny resemblance to each other apart from their nose shapes (one fine and pointed, the other broad and flat), but much of this comes down to the fact that they are both depicted with fairly short dark hair, short but full-face beards and moustache. Worsley Man’s eyes may be a more brilliant blue but the two could pass as relatives – which might not be unfair given their spatial proximity and presumably common regional ideals of hirsute appearance. Yet today they look vaguely like a late 1980s field archaeologist or museum curator; add a stripy jumper and they might step out of Time Team. Visualisations are a product of their time, they age (Giles 2016b: 413) and both are now consigned to the archive shelf. There is another reason why other facial reconstructions find themselves quickly marginalised. Some curators, Sanders (2009: 217) notes, can fear the way these new faces ‘claim superiority and exercise authority over their original albeit ruined remains’.

Should we cease these attempts and accept that the bog bodies themselves are doing the work of connecting us yet preserving a gulf in time that can never be closed? Van der Sanden (1996: 151) thinks not: so many of the bog remains are not ‘brought back to life so easily … [and are] doomed to remain anonymous skeletons and leather envelopes’. Sanders (2009: 214, 216) too applauds this ‘poetological’ and ‘ekphrastic’ project, citing Taussig’s notion that in the endeavour, something new emerges, producing a ‘strange property’ not of closing down the possibilities of being human but of ‘opening out’. If one of the central problems in two- or three-dimensional reconstructions is that ‘the illusion of life-giving can only be created by making lifelessness manifest’ (Sanders 2009: 214, original emphasis), then we are entering a realm where that threshold too, is trembling. The very latest in CT scanning and 3D visualisation techniques used to create a new ‘face’ for Tolland Man by Visual Forensic (2019) for Silkeborg Museum introduce animacy to a bog head (Figure 8.6). The result of this ‘re-facement’ (not replacement), as Sanders 2009: 218) exhorts us to call it, is in every sense of the word uncanny. When presented by Ole Nielsen in 2018 to the Bog Body network in a quiet gallery room in Manchester, the three-dimensional computer-generated image brought not only the pores of his skin and the textures of his skin cap to life, but allowed him to breathe, to suddenly settle his gaze upon us … and blink. There was an audible murmur around the room. In this peculiar field of bringing us to face to face with the most famous bog body face from northern Europe, this new vision quite literally moved.

Conclusion: re-suturing bog bodies

This chapter has reviewed the work of the museum and gallery in gathering the evidence from archaeological analysis to imagine, visualise and realise how to tell that tale. When faced with violent or mysterious death, and the uncanny properties of a bog body, this is no mean feat. Sanders (2009: 19) lauds Glob’s own endeavour here, arguing that he ‘sutures the dissected body through poetic and photographic glossing’, achieving ‘almost a re-embalming’. As with Chapter 3, this chapter has sought to reveal the labour of that work, its ethical dilemmas and some creative solutions. In keeping with the examples of good practice discussed here, the front cover of this book also seeks to bring the reader ‘face to face’ with these dead, inverting the relationship of interrogative power normally bestowed by gazing down upon them in the bog. We may flinch in the face of the violence they have endured – we should do – but they need to prompt us to wonder, to question, to interrogate further and to imagine. This is their ‘riddling power’, as Heaney (1999: 4) puts it, for it moves us to consider not just their mortality and fate, but ours.

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Bog bodies

Face to face with the past


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