Week Four: Bog Bodies and the Iceman

Both the discovery of the Iceman, Ötzi, in 1991, and the discoveries of bog bodies in the peat bogs of northern Europe led anthropologists to question how and why some ancient people met an early death.  Many theories have been hypothesized: murders, executions, and even human sacrifice. However, no matter how strong the theory, it is unlikely that we will ever know for sure why the bog bodies were buried or exactly what events lead to the death of Ötzi. Nevertheless, I have my own opinions which I have shared below.

With the bog bodies, the manner of death is often very noticeable; many of the remains have signs of strangulation or even part of a rope left around their neck. Other times, stab wounds are present, or disembowelment is obvious. The Archaeological Institute of America has devoted a small portion of their site to highlight the bog bodies. It includes a page about the causes of death for several of the prominent bog victims (http://archive.archaeology.org/online/features/bog/violence1.html). All of these deaths were rather traumatic, leading many anthropologists and other scientists to suspect murder. This could have been that case for some of the victims, however, like in the cases of Windeby “Girl” and Tollund Man, the way some of the bodies were prepared postmortem, with ornamentation and nice clothing, suggests that the deaths of some individuals may have held importance.  For instance, the bog could also have been a place or worship, and the individuals killed could have been sacrificed in order to appease gods. On the other hand, an individual could have been executed for their crimes and the bog might have been where these “unworthy” bodies were buried.

The reason for the death of Ötzi has been highly debated too, as it is not as obvious as the causes of death in the bog bodies. The website hosted by the South Tyrol Museum of Archaeology provides a very detailed take on the life Ötzi probably led before death (http://www.iceman.it/en/oetzi-the-iceman).  The site mentions that the copper axe found with the body indicates high status. Yet, from his clothes, we also know that he was most likely a shepherd.  Finally, the arrow in his back that caused his death could tell several stories. Personally, I believe that the arrow in the back means Ötzi had an altercation with the axe’s owner, and received the wound while attempting to flee for safety.