The natural decomposition of human remains is dependent on burial methods and soil composition. Human remains decompose at various rates and depending on the environment that are buried in. Many ancient and modern burial practices focus on preservation of the body. Some remains, however, are naturally preserved with no human intervention. The unusual condition in peat bogs offer outstanding preservation of human remains.
A peat bog is a swampy area with an unusual set of attributes. A large percentage of these areas are found in Europe. The temperatures of the bogs are quite low, creating an ideal environment for preservation. These areas also lack oxygen which is necessary for remains to fully decompose. Further, the bog water is extremely acidic. Aldehydes, as well as organic acids are usually found in a peat bog. The environment for peat to form must meet certain criteria. Northern European bogs are usually located near a salt water source. The salt in the air aids in the formation of the bogs. A cold climate and low drainage abilities are also an important factor. All of these characteristics combined contribute to a unique type of preservation that can make ancient remains appear to be recently deceased.
The bogs of Europe are home to thousands of bodies. The origin of their deposit in the area is constantly debated by archaeologists. Cultural standards in the area during the Iron Age are thought to have included some sacrificial routines. The bogs would have served as the dumping ground for these individuals. This conclusion comes from the appearance of similar wounds on a large number of bodies. There are also much older bodies. One is theorized to have originated in the stone age. Bog burials, in some cases, are thought to be a sign of suicide or another sin. These actions would have caused a refusal of burial in the common church area. Lack of burial resources may also have been an issue. This correlates with common financial issues concerning modern burials. Deaths in the bog also include soldiers on foreign soil. The historical significance of the bog bodies is complex and crosses many cultures.
Skin and Bones
Preservation in the bogs allows for skin, hair, and organs to remain intact. The skin takes on a leathery appearance, with the facial features discernable. Some clothing and accessories are also preserved with the bodies, especially leather goods. The acidic nature of the bog, however, does not help to conserve the skeletal remains. The bones tend to breakdown under the harsh acidic conditions. The calcium phosphate present in the skeletal material is broken down by the chemical composition of peat bogs.
The reverse, however, is apparent in North American bogs. Florida houses some similar bog areas. These bogs host a more diluted form of similar chemical makeup. The increase in water, and high salt content, preserve the bones better than the outer material of the remains. Thus, in Florida, the facial features, hair, and organs would be further depleted. This can be helpful in research situations, as skeletal remains help define many characteristics of the deceased. In either situation, bog bodies are generally more preserved than bodies found in traditional burial sites.
Mistakes early on in the study of bog bodies caused some changes to be made in the lab. The first few specimens were removed from the bog with good intentions. Accelerated decomposition takes place when the bodies are suddenly exposed to oxygen and other environmental factors. Temperature changes are an issue, as well. The physical state of a bog body is dependent on its environment.
Research methods have since changed, The bog atmosphere has been replicated, to some degree, in the lab. This assists with learning how the preservation process works in a bog. These replicas are used to mimic the preservation of organic material under observation. This can give scientists a better understanding of the timeline involved in the process.
Peat bogs hold many scientific and historical secrets. The bodies give a glimpse into cultural rituals and events of the past. The chemical mix in a bog also gives evidence of nature’s preservation abilities. The resistance of decomposition allows for the observation of details normally absent from ancient remains. The bogs of Northern Europe and America are unique in chemical composition and allow for excellent research opportunities.