Something ancient and mysterious has been burbling beneath the earth for centuries—or rather, someone has been burbling. Lots of someones.
The New York Times published a splashy feature this week about the long-ago Northern European tradition of “bog burials”: the disposal of dead bodies in bogs. Yes, bogs: the swampy-marshy-gooey places you learned about in grade school. The burial practice flourished for nearly 7,000 years, the story says, particularly “from 1000 B.C. to 1500 A.D., from the Iron Age to the medieval period.” And it turns out this practice was rather effective for preserving bodies. An expansive study cited in the Times examined what the study describes as “more than 1,000 such bog people,” many of them mummified to shocking degrees, with “skin, soft tissue, and hair” preserved even after thousands of years.
You should read the whole thing. It’s an astonishing story—a fascinating historical and scientific account full of unbelievable details.
Intentionally or not, though, it’s also very, very funny.
The piece’s over-the-top gothic horror reads like something even an Edgar Allan Poe aficionado might describe as a little much. The sheer gruesomeness in the backstory of how some of these preserved bog bodies came to be—and how they stayed preserved—cannot be overstated.
The discovery of one of the bodies, dubbed “the Yde Girl”—a “contorted body of a female […] roughly 4 feet 6 inches tall who lived in the first century A.D.”—is described thusly:
“She had been left in a shallow mire south of the modern-day village of Yde,” said Dr. [Roy] van Beek, now an archaeologist at Wageningen University & Research. Her skin had been tanned in the dark tea of the bog.
The Yde Girl, as she became known, was unearthed in 1897 by peat diggers so spooked by their gruesome discovery that they reportedly chorused “I hope the Devil gets the man that dug this hole” and fled the scene. The corpse was wearing a much-darned woolen cloak, which concealed a stab wound near her collarbone. A seven-foot-long strip of cloth, perhaps a waistband, was wound around her neck three times and its slipknot indented below her left ear. “The cloth was probably used to strangle her,” Dr. van Beek said.
Awful. Poor Yde Girl! She’s hardly alone. “Most of the bog mummies that have turned up also show signs of multiple traumatic injuries and are presumed to be murder victims,” the Times reports. “Seven victims appear to have been slain by several means, a practice that scholars call overkilling.”
Overkilling?? Honestly a good name for being stabbed and strangled to death.
The science of how the bogs preserved all these mostly murdered bodies so effectively is nearly as jaw-dropping:
The cadavers owe their state to the natural chemistry of bogs. Layers of sphagnum moss and peat help pickle bodies by saturating the tissue in a cold, immobilizing environment that is highly acidic and almost devoid of oxygen. The decaying mosses release humic acids and sphagnan, a complex sugar, that make life difficult for the microorganisms that would normally cause rotting and decay. Sphagnan also leaches calcium from bones, eventually softening, breaking and warping them.
Fascinating, and very metal all around.
Finally, the piece makes a very curious choice in its conclusion, with an archaeologist describing this bog place—where people who were horribly murdered had their mutilated bodies dumped—in a way that rings, uh, a little off.
Yde Girl and Tollund Man are a reminder that humans once had very different and more respectful relationships with the bog, she said: “Bog bodies — and artifacts and eco-facts — become strange kinds of ambassadors from deep time. They re-enchant us with these landscapes through their stories.”
Ambassadors from a deep time when those who were violently murdered could be enchantingly dumped into bogs to not decay for thousands of years … yes, OK.
In fairness, at Slate, we were enchanted. And we couldn’t stop thinking of alternative headlines for the story—as well as headlines for hypothetical sequel stories should the Times stay on this cursèd beat. Our creations are preserved, in peat and sphagnum moss, below.
Move Over, Formaldehyde: Peat Moss Is the Hot Corpse’s Dirty Little Secret
Peat and Repeat: How Murderers From the Iron Age to the Medieval Era Used the Same Disposal Playbook
You Moss Be Kidding Me: My Brutal Murder Was Not “Enchanting”
I Got Stabbed in the Collarbone, Strangled, and Buried in a Bog. You’ll Never Believe What Happened Next.
The Older Generation Needs to Stop Killing and Burying Teens in Bogs in Times of Crisis
Doctors Hate Her: Yde Girl Simply Will Not Decompose
New Murder Trend of “Overkilling” Has Ancient Origins, Scholars Say
As “Bog-Dumping” Trend Goes More Mainstream, Hippest Killers Eye Swamps, Marshes
Farewell and I’ll Moss You: Everything You Need to Know About Bog Burials
In a World Awash in Guns and Viruses, a New Threat Emerges (It’s Bogs)
Deep in the Forest, a Quiet Killer (It’s Bogs)
For Murderers, a New Dumping Ground Is “Bog Standard”
“Drown Me in a Bog, Daddy”: Gen Z Won’t Stop Asking Biblical God to Bury Them in Sphagnum Moss
Murder Pro Tip: Don’t Dump the Body in a Bog. “The Evidence Will Stick Around for Centuries.”
Defense Attorney Quits After Suspect Spotted Bog-Side
Peat’s Draggin’: Getting Your Murder Victim to the Bog Can Be Murder on Your Lower Back
Eric Adams Vows to Double Police Presence Around City’s Bogs
Well, It Was Embarrassing to Be So Intensely Disliked That I Was Murdered in Four Different Ways, but at Least No One Else Is Ever Going to Hear About It Now That I’m Buried in This Bog
Bog Women Are From Haraldskær, Bog Men Are From Old Croghan
Park Slope Teens Ditch Social Media, Kill Phones in Ceremonies at Ancient, Earthly Burial Bogs
Bog Mummy Awakens, Vows Revenge
34 Down: Enchanting spot to dump and preserve murder victims for centuries (3 letters)
I Got Hit in the Head With a Club and Buried in a Bog. Here’s Why That Was a Big Problem for Me.
Bog Girl Summer: How Humic Acids and Sphagnan Keep My Skin Looking Fresh
114-Year-Old Bog Woman Describes Secret to Perfect Skin, Longevity: “It’s the Peat”
For These First-Century Teens, Getting “Bogged Down” Was Fatal. But These Modern-Day Scholars Love Getting “Bogged Down” in Research About Their Deaths!
Peter Thiel’s “Bog Boys” Expose Obsessive Billionaire’s Latest Longevity Regimen of Pungent Peat Baths
Following Lawsuit, Fox News Cancels Advertiser Contract With Bog Body Mummy Powder Supplement
Justice for Yde Girl
To the long-deceased friends and families of these ancient victims tragically killed and then dumped in bogs, we are sorry for your loss.