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The Bog People: Iron Age Man Preserved (original 1965; edition 1998)
by Professor P.V. Glob (Author)
The Bog People; Iron Age Man Preserved by P. V. Glob (1965)
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an insigtful look into the bodies found in peat bogs ( )
“ . . . when she has had her fill of the society of mortals.”
I meant this to be a break from the absurd, horror, and roman-era literature I’d been researching for upcoming projects. Well, true to form, this turned out not to be a respite from the grind, exactly, but added more fuel to my ever-burning fire for invention. Forever restless, forever kicking those legs under the desk, never giving the brain enough time to drift into twilight’s murk. Maybe I’m just bored with inactivity.
So, it served as a treasure trove for the third story in my upcoming short story collection—literally four published projects out. I know, I know, restless brain syndrome. That’s why I drink at the beginning of every writing session; it slows me down, allows me to punch into the mindstream with the least amount of obstruction. Or maybe I’m just trying to preserve my own body in beer and bog-watered imagination. Hopefully no one tries to bury me under layers of peat when they find me passed out on the office room floor . . .
The ingenuity of humans always astounds me—whether from the Late Iron Age or present-day Silicon Valley; through torturous ritual to mind-numbing entertainment; under duress of invented deities who require murderous propitiation and over grief from failed Call of Duty missions. We humans seem tireless at creating mountains out of peat bogs and take offense at any one else’s lack of appreciation. “You’ve pissed off Nerthus. Throw a rope around the fucker’s neck and hang him from the old oak tree.” “Step on the crucifix.” “That goddamn Harrier’s wrecking my Netflix and chill.” “I want to be the first insect politician.” “My torc’s heavier than your torc.” “Showcase what's important to you by adding photos, pages, groups and more to your featured section on your public profile.”
What’s any of this got to do with the book? Nothing and everything. I’d imagine the first people to dredge up those preserved humans freaked the hell out. They’d called the authorities. Hints at recent murder and an unsurprising lack of belief in murder that could’ve been pickled and presented two thousand years later in sharp detail. The hair on the chin, the weave in fabric, the coiled pig tails on the top of the head, the fingerprints . . . down to the eyelashes, millennia apart, those past humans were once very much like us—only the tools were more primitive. The designs and employ and results were more similar than maybe we’d care to recognize.
Murder. Horror. Ceremony. Combs made of horn. Gods carved of wood. Stabbed hearts and staked bodies. All that invention suspended in time—throughout time—time after time after time. The echoes, like the frozen screams on a crushed bog body, rebound. That history will not be denied. No matter how deep you’ve dug and planted that horror.
I read the NYRB reprint of this riveting account of the European "Bog People." Well written, and the narrative is superbly complemented by the photographs.
I got this book at the Darnestown Presbyterian church bazaar last year, along with a few others. The book was in fairly good condition, and on intriguing enough a topic for me to be eager to read it and see just what new information I might learn.
As previous reviewers have noted, this book is charming from the outset. It's dedicated to a group of schoolgirls who wrote the author inquiring for more information about the bog bodies. The author wrote this book by way of offering it up to them - a long letter of sorts. This book is focused firmly in facts, and for the Iron Age civilization draws heavily from Tacitis's Germani, within reason. It's less speculative than the other book I read on the topic, but is charming for its straightforward approach.
The pictures would've benefited from a color release, but are startlingly vivid even in black and white. Apart from a few typos the translation was great. The book was nowhere near as dated as I expected it to be. I found myself rather liking the Nerthus hypothesis in the end.
I have been eager to read this book since it landed on my TBR in 2008 (well, maybe not that eager) but, alas, it was not as interesting as I hoped. Glob is a lively writer, but at a certain point he itemizes bog bodies found in Denmark (he is Danish) and elsewhere in northern Europe and that is a little boring, at least for me. What are bog bodies? Peat bogs have certain properties which preserve bodies (it turns out by essentially tanning them) and peat diggers come upon them when they dig down to the levels at which they were "buried." It turns out that many of the bog bodies didn't die naturally and in his last chapter Glob speculates that these were sacrifices to a fertility/earth mother goddess. I have no idea if this has stood up to later analysis because this book was written 40 years ago, but Glob cites Tacitus for part of his rationale.
The most interesting parts of the book for me were the opening chapters about the discoveries of the Tollund man and the Grauballe man and descriptions of them and what happened to them, and then the chapters about how Iron Age man (and woman) lived in northern Europe and what happened when they died, despite the speculation. It turns out that most dead bodies were initially cremated and then buried, so the bog bodies are unusual, and not only because they met death by having their throats slashed or hanging or otherwise unnatural means. Were they sacrifices? Glob thinks so.
The NYRB edition is enhanced by many photographs, most of the bog bodies, but some of where they were found and some of what was found with them.
References to this work on external resources.
Wikipedia in English (5)
"One spring morning two men cutting peat in a Danish bog uncovered a well-preserved body of a man with a noose around his neck. Thinking they had stumbled upon a murder victim, they reported their discovery to the police, who were baffled until they consulted the famous archaeologist P.V. Glob. Glob identified the body as that of a two-thousand-year-old man, ritually murdered and thrown in the bag as a sacrifice to the goddess of fertility." "Written in the guise of a scientific defective story, this classic of archaeological history - a best-seller when it was published in England but out of print for many years - is a thoroughly engrossing and still reliable account of the religion, culture, and daily life of the European Iron Age."--Jacket.
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Melvil Decimal System (DDC)936.3 — History and Geography Ancient World Europe north and west of Italian Peninsula to ca. 499 Germanic Regions to 481
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An edition of this book was published by NYRB Classics.