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Taphonomic and Forensic Aspects of Bog Bodies

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... The observed time to complete skeletonization and disarticulation (i.e., 'clean bone') varies from 1-2 weeks to more than 3 years (Pinheiro 2006). Many factors influence the decay time (Pinheiro 2006;Hopkins 2008), including submersion in water (Rodriguez 1997;Haglund and Sorg 2001;Simmons 2001;Anderson and Hobischak 2004;Petrik et al. 2004), oxygen availability (Turner and Wiltshire 1999;Simmons et al. 2010b;Gibelli et al. 2013), temperature (Carter and Tibbet 2008;Carter et al. 2010), and pH of the surrounding environment (Brothwell and Gill-Robinson 2001;Dent et al. 2004). Certain obvious factors don't seem to affect decay times, including the size of the specimen (Simmons et al. 2010a) and prior dismemberment (Parkosh and Rogers 2009). ...
... Tar from the Rancho La Brea seeps has been shown to have a rich bacterial fauna within a slightly acidic environment with some water trapped within the tar (Kim and Crowley 2007). Acid, water, and anoxia all tend to slow the decomposition process (Rodriguez 1997;Turner and Wiltshire 1999;Brothwell and Gill-Robinson 2001;Haglund and Sorg 2001;Dent et al. 2004;Carter and Tibbet 2008;Carter et al. 2010;Simmons et al. 2010b;Gibelli et al. 2013). We believe that it is only with these sorts of actualistic models that we can address some of the remaining questions regarding the unique taphonomic story of the La Brea fossil collection. ...
Article
: The famous Rancho La Brea tar seeps of Southern California trapped thousands of Pleistocene and early Holocene vertebrates, preserving them as jumbled columns of millions of disarticulated bones. Previous work has contributed to a hypothetical entrapment scenario, however, it lacks detail in the period between the time the animals perished and the permeation of their bones with tar. Additionally, previous work has shown that skeletal elements moved apart from each other at least 1–3 meters but it is unclear whether this movement occurred near the surface of the tar, soon after submersion, or later after burial by sediment and compaction. To help answer these questions of disarticulation and transport, we conducted an actualistic experiment to record the progress of microbial succession and skeletonization of specimens in tar. We submerged dismembered bobcat (Lynx rufus) carcasses in an undisturbed tar seep and recorded the progress of microbial faunal changes and tissue decay. Microbial communit...
... However, there have been extensive studies that have analysed bog body phenomena and provided forensic analyses of periand post-mortem events (e.g. Aldhouse- Green, 2001Green, , 2015Aufderheide, 2003;Brothwell and Gill-Robinson, 2002;Giles, 2015Giles, , 2020. ...
... There is substantial evidence that individuals deposited in bogs experienced torture before their placement (e.g. Aldhouse- Green, 2001Green, , 2015Brothwell and Gill-Robinson, 2002;Kelly, 2006aKelly, and 2006bKelly, , 2013. However, if we consider the catalogues of Glob (1969) and Turner and Scaife (1995), not all bog individuals were subjected to sharp force trauma or any damage upon death. ...
Article
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The analysis of sharp force trauma has usually been reserved for prehistoric osteological case studies. Bog bodies, on the other hand, due to the excellent preservation of the soft tissues, provide a unique example of visible lesions. This type of preservation of prehistoric soft tissue trauma that would otherwise be predominantly absent from osteological remains allows archaeologists to understand better the methods in which these individuals died and potentially the demographic for who performed these acts. Unfortunately, analysis of sharp force trauma in modern forensics is limited, lacking major revision for the last decade. Likewise, archaeological analysis of sharp force trauma is limited to osteological indicators (e.g., marks on bone and cartilage). Therefore, this experimental study performed in 2016 aimed to compare lesions observed on prehistoric bog bodies with those on a human proxy – pig carcases and create an assailant profile through correlating weapon type and volunteer body mass index (BMI). A Multivariate Kruskal-Wallis test (MKW) revealed that the wound areas created by two different weapons under study (a dagger or spear) could not significantly differentiate assailants based on their BMI with 95% confidence level. A binomial logistic regression model was used to predict further the likelihood that either a spear or a dagger caused the observed stab wounds on the individual bog bodies under investigation, given the specific wound lengths and unknown true BMI of the victims. This logistic model was approximately 92% accurate in classifying the weapon type given the exact wound length across different possible BMI values of an assailant (BMI range: 18.0-31.5 kg/m2).
... Our anthropological analysis was based on standard techniques commonly employed in physical anthropology. Through the examination and identification of each individual bone (Bass 1979), deposition practice and taphonomic context (Brothwell and Gill-Robinson 2002;Guy et alii 1997) were carried out to reconstruct a paleo-demographical and paleo-pathological plan. ...
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Volumen IV de las Actas del IX Congreso Internacional de Estudios Fenicios y Púnicos
... In collating the previously disparate literature, standardizing terminology, and highlighting the major outcomes of taphonomic analyses for the forensic anthropologist in mass disaster and victim identiication, these texts represent an invaluable introduction to the world of forensic taphonomy for both anthropology students and taphonomic practitioners alike. he irst volume (Haglund and Sorg 1997) is primarily decomposition process-driven, and highlights major areas of research in hard and sot tissue decomposition (including hairs and ibers), the efects of scavenging, weathering and transport, the burial environment, burning, and bodies in water. Having established a need for the forensic application of taphonomy, the second volume (Haglund and Sorg 2002a) considers taphonomic principles in a more applied manner through case studies and, in particular, the application of taphonomic principles in mass grave anthropology (Anderson and Cervenka 2002;Berryman 2002;Brothwell and Gill-Robinson 2002;Darwent and Lyman 2002;Dirkmaat 2002;Ebbesmeyer and Haglund 2002;Graver et al. 2002;Haglund 2002;Haglund et al. 2002;Haglund and Sorg 2002b;Harvey and King 2002;Hochrein 2002;Janaway 2002 Saul and Saul 2002;Schmitt 2002;Simmons 2002;Skinner et al. 2002;Sledzik and Rodriguez 2002;Sorg and Haglund 2002;Symes et al. 2002;Ubelaker 2002). hese seminal volumes are essential background reading and provide a yardstick by which to measure the development and evolution of forensic taphonomy over the last decade. ...
... lack of oxygen, low temperatures, limiting pH, very low relative humidity), the presence of biocides, or a combination of the two. Examples include the survival of finger nails and hair in the deeply frozen bodies of the Franklin expedition (Beattie & Geiger, 1987) and the Tyrolean Ice Man (Spindler, 1993), the desiccated sand burials (Dzierzykray-Rogalski, 1986) and embalmed mummies of Ancient Egypt and the acid bog burials of Northern Europe (Brothwell & Gill-Robinson, 2002) with their preserving combination of low pH, dark, anoxic, waterlogged conditions and the antiseptic nature of some of the component vegetation. It is no surprise that woollen textiles and objects in horn and other keratinous tissues are also preserved with many of these inhumations. ...
Article
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Despite being widely utilized in the production of cultural objects, keratinous hard tissues, such as horn, baleen, and tortoiseshell, rarely survive in archaeological contexts unless factors combine to inhibit biodeterioration. Even when these materials do survive, working, use, and diagenetic changes combine to make identification difficult. This paper reviews the chemistry and deterioration of keratin and past approaches to the identification of keratinous archaeological remains. It describes the formation of horn, hoof, baleen, and tortoiseshell and demonstrates how identification can be achieved by combining visual observation under low-power magnification with an understanding of the structure and characteristic deterioration of these materials. It also demonstrates how peptide mass fingerprinting of the keratin can be used to identify keratinous tissues, often to species, even when recognizable structural information has not survived
... Our suggestion that nearly all bog bodies are the result of deliberate burial (in peat or bog pool) is greatly strengthened by the total lack of bog bodies from North America (Brothwell and Gill-Robinson 2002;B.G. Warner pers. ...
Article
We draw attention to the rarity of non-human bog bodies, reviewing the small number from Britain and Ireland of which we are aware. We use this absence to argue that there is more to becoming a bog body than merely dying on a bog (or falling into a bog pool). Given the potential importance of non-human bog bodies to the interpretation of the human remains we stress the importance of the publication of any examples.
... Low soil pH can completely remove organic materials. In moist-to-saturated depositional contexts, low pH can affect bone rigidity by promoting decalcification (Brothwell and Gill-Robinson, 2001) and predisposing bones to deformation by sedimentary forces. Carcass decomposition itself promotes a low pH environment (Gill-King, 1997), and drying creates stress on muscle and ligament attachments (Weigelt, 1989). ...
... Oxygen and light availability are sometimes connected (not always) and play an equally important role in rates and products of decomposition/preservation, biologically-associated decay activity. Research on the bog bodies (Iron Age -Bronze Age) of NW Europe (Browthwell, 1996;Brothwell and Gill-Robinson, 2002) are useful in this regard, peat being frequently composed of 70% or more water, and the bases of some stagnant ponds and ditches being likewise composed of 70-80% organic matter, making the difference between a pond and a bog negligible from a search strategy viewpoint. ...
Article
There have been few publications on the forensic search of water and fewer still on the use of geoforensic techniques when exploring aqueous environments. Here we consider what the nature of the aqueous environment is, what the forensic target(s) may be, update the geoforensic search assets we may use in light of these, and provide a search strategy that includes multiple exploration assets. Some of the good practice involved in terrestrial searches has not been applied to water to-date, water being seen as homogenous and without the complexity of solid ground: this is incorrect and a full desktop study prior to searching, with prioritized areas, is recommended. Much experimental work on the decay of human remains is focused on terrestrial surface deposition or burial, with less known about the nature of this target in water, something which is expanded upon here, in order to deploy the most appropriate geoforensic method in water-based detection. We include case studies where detecting other forensic targets have been searched for; from metal (guns, knives) to those of a non-metallic nature, such as submerged barrels/packages of explosives, drugs, contraband and items that cause environmental pollution. A combination of the consideration of the environment, the target(s), and both modern and traditional search devices, leads to a preliminary aqueous search strategy for forensic targets. With further experimental research and criminal/humanitarian casework, this strategy will continue to evolve and improve our detection of forensic targets.
... This variability emphasizes the among-necromass dynamics of multiple necrobiomes. Succession is well documented (see Box 1) and tells us that any single necrobiome exists only for a certain window of time (Table 1), which might range from hours to days for carcasses in warm conditions (Payne 1965, Barton and or months to years for some large fallen trees ) or mummified animal necromass in habitats such as dry deserts or peat bogs (Brothwell et al. 2002, Chapman 2015. Decomposer organisms searching for their next resource to continue their life cycle are therefore not only looking for another log or carcass, but also a specific decay stage, thus further emphasizing the rapid temporal turnover of the necrobiome within a necromass source. ...
Article
Full-text available
Decomposition contributes to global ecosystem function by contributing to nutrient recycling, energy flow, and limiting biomass accumulation. The decomposer organisms influencing this process form diverse, complex, and highly dynamic communities that often specialize on different plant or animal resources. Despite performing the same net role, there is a need to conceptually synthesize information on the structure and function of decomposer communities across the spectrum of dead plant and animal resources. A lack of synthesis has limited cross‐disciplinary learning and research in important areas of ecosystem and community ecology. Here we expound on the “necrobiome” concept and develop a framework describing the decomposer communities and their interactions associated with plant and animal resource types within multiple ecosystems. We outline the biotic structure and ecological functions of the necrobiome, along with how the necrobiome fits into a broader landscape and ecosystem context. The expanded necrobiome model provides a set of perspectives on decomposer communities across resource types, and conceptually unifies plant and animal decomposer communities into the same framework, while acknowledging key differences in processes and mechanisms. This framework is intended to raise awareness among researchers, and advance the construction of explicit, mechanistic hypotheses that further our understanding of decomposer community contributions to biodiversity, the structure and function of ecosystems, global nutrient recycling and energy flow.
... The high levels of evidence for physical trauma associated with many bog bodies, including signs of apparently elaborate killing (Brothwell and Gill-Robinson 2002), has led to lengthy discussions of the archaeological significance of their death and deposition in wetland contexts. Evidence of multiple injuries has been interpreted as indicating exceptionally brutal and potentially ritualized behaviour such as the 'triple-death' associated with Lindow Man (Cheshire, UK), or the brutality experienced by Dätgen Man (Schleswig Holstein, Germany). ...
Article
This paper highlights the potential for what could be termed an ‘archaeology of pain’, reflecting on the potential significance and role of the infliction, suffering, endurance and observation of pain by individuals in the past. It presents a case study of ‘bog bodies’, human remains recovered from wetland which, due to the anoxic, waterlogged conditions, preserves human flesh and associated evidence, including injuries and cause of death. The central argument is that evidence from pathological investigations of certain later prehistoric bodies provides hitherto neglected information concerning the embodied experience of pain, in particular its duration and intensity, which may be central to the interpretation of these events. This understanding can be framed not only in terms of the experience of pain by the victims, but also in the potential perception of pain and suffering by those inflicting these and potentially by any observers of the final moments of these individuals.
... The term 'bog bodies' has been in use since the 1870s for the often well-preserved human remains found in peat bogs across northern Europe (van der Sanden, 1996(van der Sanden, , 2013. The conditions of their burial environment can support the preservation of soft tissues that are not normally preserved on archaeological sites (Brothwell & Gill-Robinson, 2002). This results in significant opportunities for acquiring detailed information about the lives and deaths of the individuals. ...
Article
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Bog bodies are among the best-known archaeological finds worldwide. Much of the work on these often extremely well-preserved human remains has focused on forensics, whereas the environmental setting of the finds has been largely overlooked. This applies to both the ‘physical’ and ‘cultural’ landscape and constitutes a significant problem since the vast spatial and temporal scales over which the practice appeared demonstrate that contextual assessments are of the utmost importance for our explanatory frameworks. In this article we develop best practice guidelines for the contextual analysis of bog bodies, after assessing the current state of research and presenting the results of three recent case studies including the well-known finds of Lindow Man in the United Kingdom, Bjældskovdal (Tollund Man and Elling Woman) in Denmark, and Yde Girl in the Netherlands. Three spatial and chronological scales are distinguished and linked to specific research questions and methods. This provides a basis for further discussion and a starting point for developing approaches to bog body finds and future discoveries, while facilitating and optimizing the re-analysis of previous studies, making it possible to compare deposition sites across time and space.
... For example, at least 130 individuals have been identified from Ireland (Ó Floinn 2006, 217), over 140 from England, Scotland and Wales (Turner 1995), over 30 from the Netherlands and perhaps 120 from Germany (Gebühr 2002, 9;Eisenbeiß 2003, 149), with many more from Denmark and other parts of Scandinavia. It has been estimated that the total number might be as many as two thousand (Brothwell and Gill-Robinson 2002). ...
Article
Recent programmes of dating, forensic examination and landscape studies have dramatically increased our understanding of well-preserved bog bodies. However, other examples, often existing only as ‘paper bodies’, remain less visible within debates about interpretation, but can provide a more comprehensive picture of what bog bodies represent. This paper presents the results of an examination of all known bog bodies found across England, Wales and Scotland, arguing that a geographical approach provides very different outcomes compared with focusing on the well-preserved bodies in collections. Specifically, we highlight that firstly, previous assumptions about the predominant dates of bog bodies are incorrect, secondly that there are significant sub-regional patterns in the data, and thirdly, that the correlation between body date and the date of discovery provides a likely reason for this bias. Despite this, the evidence reinforces the exceptional pattern of violent deaths being a significant feature of Iron Age/Romano-British period bog bodies.
... Whilst clothing made of plant fibres such as linen does decay (Van der Sanden 1996, 18), good environmental information can be retrieved from the pollen and macrobotanical remains preserved in the surrounding peat (Brothwell 1986;Blackford 2000;Plunkett et al. 2009). In addition, bog bodies have helped forensic archaeologists investigate the relationship between environmental conditions and taphonomic processes which lead to particular states of preservation (Sledzik and Micozzi 1997;Brothwell and Gill-Robinson 2002). The archaeological potential of this phenomenon is therefore very rich. ...
Article
This paper explores the phenomenon of Iron Age bog bodies which are currently the subject of competing claims over the respectful treatment of the ancient dead. It reviews the problems associated with their discovery, identifies why they attract such attention, and critiques both traditional interpretations of bog bodies and methods of display. The paper defends their archaeological analysis, arguing that this process can radically transform our understanding of past communities: their lifeways and world views. Using British and Irish examples, it discusses how intimate emotions and social bonds are constructed between bog bodies, on the one hand, and, on the other, the professionals and public who engage with them. It contends that a more reflexive approach which foregrounds these complex relationships might help address concerns about the public display of human remains in general. It concludes by advocating broad processes of consultation as well as a contextual approach to the interpretation and display of future bog bodies.
Conference Paper
ABSTRACT The aim of this paper is to shed light on the interpretation of human remains and funerary rituals recently uncovered in the Archaic Necropolis of Motya. During the 20th century about 350 graves were brought to light by earlier explorations, showing that – apart from rare exceptions – adult cremation was the most common rite performed in archaic times (ca. 730-550 BC). This picture can be now changed in the light of the results of our recent fieldwork (seasons 2013-2017), showing that a large quantity of graves strikingly house remains of sub-adult individuals (i.e. foetuses, perinatals and children). While a few of them are cremated, the numerous inhumations recovered show clear patterns of short-life expectancy and precarious health conditions on the island, as frequently highlighted by an early age of death as well as by deficiency pathologies and their effects on human bones.
Chapter
The aim of this paper is to shed light on the interpretation of human remains and funerary rituals recently uncovered in the Archaic Necropolis of Motya. During the 20th century, about 350 graves were brought to light by earlier explorations, showing that – apart from rare exceptions – adult cremation was the most common rite performed in archaic times (ca. 730-550 BC). This picture can be now changed in the light of the results of our recent fieldwork (seasons 2013-2017), showing that a large quantity of graves strikingly house remains of sub-adult individuals (i.e. foetuses, perinatals and children). While a few of them are cremated, the numerous inhumations recovered show clear patterns of short-life expectancy and precarious health conditions on the island, as frequently highlighted by an early age of death as well as by deficiency pathologies and their effects on human bones. KEYWORDS Motya, paleo-anthropology, inhumation, child graves, foetuses.
Article
The unearthing of two Iron Age bog bodies in the Irish midlands within a few months of each other in 2003 prompted the development of new strategies for recording, investigating, preserving and displaying bog body finds. As a consequence of these discoveries, this period also saw the development of the National Museum of Ireland (NMI) Bog Body Tissue Samples Bank, which holds a considerable number of human tissue samples as well as samples of gut contents and associated botanic remains. The core aim of the repository is the retention and long-term preservation of these samples, both as a scientific resource and for purposes of knowledge creation. This paper outlines the raison d’être of the bank and the multiple reasons behind its establishment. It also reflects on current best practice for sample selection, storage and access, as well as exploring how sampling strategies and systems could be improved for future discoveries.
Article
Archaeological work in advance of construction at a site on the edge of York, UK, yielded human remains of prehistoric to Romano-British date. Amongst these was a mandible and cranium, the intra-cranial space of which contained shrunken but macroscopically recognizable remains of a brain. Although the distinctive surface morphology of the organ is preserved, little recognizable brain histology survives. Though rare, the survival of brain tissue in otherwise skeletalised human remains from wet burial environments is not unique. A survey of the literature shows that similar brain masses have been previously reported in diverse circumstances. We argue for a greater awareness of these brain masses and for more attention to be paid to their detection and identification in order to improve the reporting rate and to allow a more comprehensive study of this rare archaeological survival.
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