The remarkably preserved remains of iron-age man
Oldcroghan man, Clonycavan man
Gallagh Castle Body, Discovered 1821
In May 2003, Detective Eadaoin Campbell received a call to a
crime-scene in County Offaly, Ireland. A body had been found in a peat
bog by local workmen. It was soon apparent that the remains were a
question for the archaeologists not forensics. These were old remains.
The body, they have decided to call oldcroghan man, is taken to the
conservation department of the National Museum of Ireland in Dublin.
What they find when they clean to peat away, is not a skeleton, it is a
well preserved body. The chemical composition of the peat bog has halted
the normal decomposition process. All that remains of the body is the
torso and the arms, which are still fleshy and soft to the touch.
Coordinating the project is archaeologist and curator Isabella
The team suspect that the body is very old, but as yet they
have no way of telling. The headless bog body from Croghan was found
naked, apart from a simple plaited leather band around the upper left
This was the only artefact found with the body and is unlike
anything the team have seen before. Found alongside the body was a
withy, a length of hazel branches twisted to form a rope, again
remarkably well preserved.
The mystery deepens when they finish cleaning the last of the peat
from the body and find tiny fragments of the withy embedded in both of
The last soft-tissue bog body to be discovered in the Irish peat bogs
was in 1978. This was the body of a young woman who the scientists have
dated back to the late 16th century.
A much better known bog body is one found near Gallagh Castle in
County Galway in 1821. The body of a young man around 25 years old and
dated back to 200-400 BC. While the this body was well preserved when it
was discovered, the preservation techniques of the day did not allow it
to be maintained in this condition and it has since dried out and
Oldcroghan Man is still fresh and the level of preservation will
allow the team to investigate the cause of death. Professor Marie
Cassidy is Ireland's state pathologist and she hopes that modern
forensic pathology can shed some light on this ancient murder.
Cuts to the chest around the nipples and knife marks on the ribs lead
Professor Cassidy to the conclusion that this man was tortured, stabbed,
beheaded and dismembered before being buried in the peat bog.
three months before Oldcroghan Man was found another body was discovered
by a peat-cutting machine at Clonycavan, just 25 miles from the Croghan
bog. This body is less well preserved than Oldcroghan Man but it does
have a head, a head which is still topped with hair. Once the body is
cleaned the scientists are intrigued by what appears to be deliberate
styling of the hair, but this has concealed something much darker. The
skull has been smashed by a sharp object the result of a vicious attack.
Hill has been a site for Christian ceremonies for hundreds of years
including the inauguration of Irish Kings. It has long been believed
that these Christian rites are rooted in their earlier Pagan rituals.
Ned Kelly, investigates early records and finds that both Oldcroghan Man
and Clonycavan Man were buried on old tribal borders. Further research
reveals records of 40 other bog bodies found, also on tribal borders.
team still does not know if these remains date from Christian or Pagan
times so they arrange for samples to be dated. Radio carbon or carbon 14
dating works best from samples of wood, and the withy found with Old
Croghan Man is undeniably linked to the body. Samples of the withy and
from the gut of the body are sent to be analysed. Unbelievably both
bodies date to 392-175 BC or early Stone Age.