Researchers discover an ancient skeleton, part of a ritual

  • A partial skeleton believed to be 5,000 years old has been discovered in Denmark.
  • The skeleton may be part of a collection of “bog bodies” found across northern Europe.
  • Evidence also suggests that the “bog body” may have been there as part of a ritual.

An ancient and well-preserved skeleton – possibly a remnant of a ritual sacrifice practiced over 5,000 years ago – has been discovered by archaeologists in Denmark.

Researchers from ROMU, an organization representing 10 museums in Denmark, had excavated the site of a proposed housing development in the municipality of Egedal, near Copenhagen.

During their investigation, Christian Dedenroth-Schou, one of the team members, came across a femur sticking out of the mud. After digging further in the dirt, Dedenroth-Schou and his colleagues were able to find almost all the bones from both legs, a pelvis and a jaw.

Researchers understood it to mean a “bog body,” referring to the dozens of usually male corpses found in bogs in Europe. The bodies often remain well intact despite being thousands of years old, due to the low-oxygen and acidic environment of bogs, which makes it difficult for bacteria to survive. Peat is also formed from peat moss through this process.

One of the most famous bog bodies, the Tollund Man, was also found in Denmark.

A jawbone and femur in the bog

Courtesy of ROMU

The skeleton is not complete, and according to ROMU there is “no direct evidence of victims,” ​​but archaeologists believe the bog person was not simply the victim of thoughtless murder, but rather of a planned ritual ceremony.

It is understood that for the ancient peoples of Northern Europe, bogs played a significant role for the resources they provided and, according to the National Museum of Denmark, were considered “the gateway between the world of men and the world of the gods”.

The excavated bog men could date from between 4,300 B.C. and 600 B.C. BC – or between the Neolithic and the Iron Age – may have been offerings to the gods.

A jawbone and femur in the bog

Courtesy of ROMU

A Stone Age flint axe, remains of animal bones and pottery were found near the skeleton found at Egedal, leading researchers to conclude that the items may have been left as part of a ritual.

Emil Winther Struve, the lead archaeologist at ROMU, told LiveScience that the ax was never used, lending credence to the theory that the ax was used as a sacrificial offering rather than a murder weapon.

“The find fits into a well-established tradition of ritually burying objects, people and animals in the bog. This was widely practiced in ancient times, and this is most likely a sacrifice of such a ritual,” Struve said in a press release. “Previous finds indicate that this is an area where ritual activities took place.”

Much about the skeleton – including gender, where the person lived, and when the person died – remains unknown. Emil Struve, the excavation director, told LiveScience that there was evidence the body was Neolithic because “the traditions of human sacrifice go back so far.”

The site has since been drained and archaeologists hope to use DNA technology to conduct a more thorough excavation to find the remaining bones when the ground thaws in the spring.

“They are considering whether that person would be happy to be found or whether they would have preferred to rest in peace,” Dedenroth-Schou said in a press release, translated from Danish. “After all, we don’t know much about their religion. Perhaps we are disturbing an idea of ​​the afterlife. But at the same time, we have an important job to make sure that someone’s remains aren’t just dug up like that with a digger and end up in a big pile of dirt.”

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