Mummification in Bogs

Jonathan Coelho

 

            The word mummification usually conjures an image of an ancient Egyptian that has been wrapped in gauze and preserved for thousands of years. However there is a process whereby the forces of nature cause natural mummification. This natural mummification can occurs in several climates. One of these climates is the peat bog; most peat bogs suitable for providing the proper conditions for mummification can be found in Europe. Mummification occurs because of the conditions produced by the bog. Sphagnum moss is the primary component of any peat bog; sphagnum moss grows upwards and completely encases bodies within the bog. When this sphagnum dies it condenses and forms peat, which encases the bodies in a cold, acidic, and oxygen deprived environment. The bacteria and fungi that are responsible for decomposition cannot survive without oxygen, thus the body cannot break down. However the aforementioned acidic conditions have an effect on the preserved bodies. These acidic conditions break down the bones within the bodies while leaving the skin intact. This is why bog mummies have a different appearance than their skin and bones Egyptian counterparts. The skin of a bog mummy is tanned and leather, and due to the absence of bones a bog mummy can be compared to a sack of skin.

 

An image of a mummy that was preserved in a peat bog. This particular specimen is known as Grauballe Man.

 

The most famous bog mummy is estimated to be around 2100 years old and was found in Denmark. He is commonly referred to as The Tollund Man and it has been said that he was preserved with a look of serenity on his face. This is an interesting statement when one considers that he was found with a rope around his neck. This is not an uncommon occurrence with bog mummies however as many of those that have been found were savagely killed and then presumably tossed into the bog afterwards as a means of removal of the body.

EXN staff. March 17, 2003. Mummies discovered in Scottish dig. http://exn.ca/Stories/2003/03/17/52.asp.

 

Infiniti Studios. 2002. Natural Mummification. http://www.wanderingrealms.com/temple/ibu/.

 

Lorenzi, R. 2000. Tollund Man and the Bog Mummies. http://dsc.discovery.com/stories/history/desertmummies/tollundman.html.