The preserved head and shoulders of the Tollund man

Tollund Man, who lived 2,200–2,400 years ago in what is now Denmark, died after being hung or strangled. He would have lost consciousness within 15 seconds. Credit: Richard Ashworth/Robert Harding/Getty

Archaeology

Pain was sharp but short for ancient ‘bog body’ victims

Methods that would minimize suffering were chosen to kill people found in peat bogs.

Prehistoric people discovered in European peat bogs often show signs of horrifically violent deaths: marks on their bodies indicate that they were strangled, hanged, stabbed or beheaded. Their final moments were exceptionally brutal — or so researchers thought.

A study challenging this view suggests that many of these people, whose preserved cadavers are known as ‘bog bodies’, suffered pain only briefly before death.

Henry Chapman at the University of Birmingham, UK, and Benjamin Gearey at University College Cork in Ireland undertook the gruesome task of examining the injuries on ten bog bodies found across Northern Europe. The researchers consulted medical and forensic literature to estimate how long victims would have been conscious after receiving their fatal injuries. A decapitation or a hard blow to the head would have caused a person to pass out immediately. A slit throat would have been followed by less than 10 seconds of painful consciousness.

The authors say that the bog folk were generally killed with methods that inflicted pain for as short a time as possible.