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7 January 2006
Iron Age 'bog bodies' unveiled in Ireland

Archaeologists have unveiled two Iron Age 'bog bodies' which were found in the Republic of Ireland. The bodies, which are both male and have been dated to more than 2,000 years ago, probably belong to the victims of a ritual sacrifice. In common with other bog bodies, they show signs of having been tortured before their deaths. Details of the finds are outlined in a BBC Timewatch documentary to be screened on BBC2 on Friday, January 20 at 9pm.
     The first body dropped off a peat cutting machine in February 2003 in Clonycavan, near Dublin. The forearms, hands and lower abdomen are missing, believed to have been hacked off by the machine. The second was found in May the same year in Croghan, just 25 miles (40km) from Clonycavan. Old Croghan Man, as it has become known, was missing a head and lower limbs. It was discovered by workmen clearing a drainage ditch through a peat bog. Although the police were initially called in, an inspection by the state pathologist confirmed that this was an archaeological case. Both bodies were subsequently taken to the National Museum of Ireland in Dublin.
     After an 18-month investigation by an international team of experts, it has been revealed that the men were killed around 2,300 years ago. The team of experts have been examining the bodies to learn how they lived and died. Carbon testing, for example, showed that Clonycavan man died between 392- 201 BCE and Oldcroghan man from 362-175 BCE. One of these experts is Don Brothwell, the York University archaeologist who led the scientific investigation of Lindow Man, the bog body found in Cheshire (England) in 1984.
     Clonycavan man was a young male no more than 5ft 2in tall. Beneath his hair, which retains its unusual "raised" style, was a massive wound caused by heavy cutting object that smashed open his skull. Chemical analysis of the hair showed that Clonycavan man's diet was rich in vegetables in the months leading up to his death, suggesting he died in summer. It also revealed that he had been using a type of Iron Age hair gel; a vegetable plant oil mixed with a resin that had probably come from south-western France or Spain.
     Old Croghan man was also young - probably in his early to mid 20s - but much taller than his counterpart from 25 miles away. Scientists worked out from the length of his arms that he would have stood an estimated 198cm (6ft 6 in) tall. He had been horrifically tortured before death. His nipples had been cut and he had been stabbed in the ribs. A cut on his arm suggested he had tried to defend himself during the attack that ended his life. The young man was later beheaded and dismembered. Hazel ropes were passed through his arms before he was buried in the bog. Food remains in his stomach show that Old Croghan man had eaten milk and cereals before he died. But electron microscope examination of his finger nails showed he did no physical labour whatsoever and chemical analysis of his nails showed that he had more meat in his diet than Clonycavan man. This suggests that he died in a colder season than Clonycavan man, when vegetables were more scarce. It may also explain why his remains are better preserved.
     Perhaps most importantly, an expert at the museum has developed a compelling new theory on late Bronze and early Iron Age Irish society that should also help point the way to new archaeological discoveries. The museum's keeper of Irish antiquities, Ned Kelly, noted that both bog bodies were discovered along ancient tribal boundaries. Looking back he found that 40 body discoveries in Irish bogland were made along boundaries. He extended his search to include other late Bronze and early Iron Age material and horse bits turned up along with wooden yokes, weapons, cauldrons, personal ornaments, crowns and gold collars on tribal borders. "These, I believe, are items associated with kingship," said Mr Kelly.
     The two bog bodies are now at the National Museum of Ireland in Dublin. So far they have been seen only by archaeologists and scientists, but they will go on public display at the Museum in May.

Sources: BBC News, The Irish Times, Mirror.co.uk (7 January 2006)

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