Kingship and Sacrifice: Bog Bodies of the Iron Age

1 Oct

Last week a group of us had the opportunity to explore the National Museum of Ireland located right here in Dublin. The museum is home to hundreds of artifacts that tell the story of Ireland’s long and rich history. During our visit, we learned all about Ireland’s connection to neighboring countries, gold, religion, kingship and much more. Some of the most interesting artifacts in the museum were the bog bodies in the Kingship and Sacrifice Exhibition.

Bog Bodies description from the museum

Bog Bodies description from the museum

Much to their shock and horror, farmers across Europe have recently been discovering bodies while harvesting peat in their bogs. Two of the most famous bodies in the museum are Clonycavan Man and Old Croghan Man which date back to 400-200 BC. Both of these men were brutally murdered as victims of human sacrifice.

Clonycavan Man Description

Clonycavan Man Description

According to scientists, Clonycavan Man was around 25 years old when he was killed by an axe blow to the skull and face (Wikipedia). Based on his appearance and use of hair gel, they believe that he was wealthy and may have been chosen as a sacrifice because he was seen as a threat to the King. Similarly, the Old Croghan Man was around 20 years old and also appeared to be wealthy. He was stabbed in the chest and decapitated (Wikipedia).


Old Croghan Man


Clonycavan Man

What makes the bog bodies so interesting is the fact that they are in such amazing condition. The bodies have been sitting in grass and mud for thousands of years yet you can still see their fingernails and the hair on their arms. The bogs’ environment preserves the body allowing scientists to learn more about what life was like in Ireland during the Iron Age. Thanks to the great condition of the bodies, the scientists have discovered lots of information regarding diets, living conditions, and religious traditions (BBC).

Recently, another body called Cashel Man was discovered in Laois. The scientists at the National Museum believe that it is around 4,000 years old!! They determined that like the Clonycavan and Old Croghan Men, this man was a young adult and was also killed violently by some sort of blade or sword (Irish Times). It is unbelievable to think that a 4,000 year old body even still exists never mind the fact that scientists can learn so much from it.

If you are interested in learning more about the bog bodies in the museum and what we can learn from them, visit and download the two free resources on the exhibit.


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