Monday, 31 October 2016

MUSEUM MONDAYS: HALLOWEEN EDITION - BOG BODIES: A REAL LIFE HORROR STORY

MUSEUM MONDAYS

BY: EMMA HOFFMAN

Welcome, welcome, welcome, to the spooOOOOoooOoookiest day of the year! There have been some spooktacular Halloween-themed articles on Musings, and I highly suggest you check them out (if you haven't already) after reading this article. Today, I want to talk about one of my favourite real life horror stories: bog bodies. I first became interested in bog bodies during my undergrad while studying Irish poet Seamus Heaney's series of poems: "The Bog People"; in a survey course on the history of English literature. My inexplicable fascination with this subject only grew from there. For those who are unfamiliar with bog bodies, I am giving advanced warning that this post might give you nightmares.

As you ghoulish readers know from my previous post, I went to Ireland this past summer and while I was there, I encountered the aforementioned Bog Body at the National Museum of Ireland. For those unfamiliar with the term, Bog Bodies are human bodies dating back to the Bronze Age and Iron Age, whose remains have been preserved in bogs for thousands of years. Unlike your average dead body that was buried in the ground, their body parts failed to decompose due to the chemical composition of the bog in which they were buried, speculatively as part of a human sacrifice ritual. The bodies I saw on display at the National Museum of Ireland were unintentionally excavated in 2003 by companies trying to sift peat out of rural Irish bogs. Imagine going about your day as a peat sifter and findingwithin your daily quota of boggy soilthe hand depicted below:

The perfectly preserved fingernails of "Oldcroghan Man". Source.
As one can imagine, visiting the bog bodies was a totally terrifying experience. The bodies are kept in low-light environments, to slow the decomposition process of the skin, nails, and flesh that comprise these once-living people. Furthermore, these environments are located in small, dark, circular pod-like structures, surrounded by high walls, that visitors have to descend a shallow ramp to enter. Once in this pod-like structure, the visitor (me in this case) cannot avoid making eye contact with the bog body. Yes, the curator and exhibition designer had the genius idea that it would be best practice to enclose the visitor in a small dark space with nothing to look at but the slowly decomposing body of someone who died a violent death thousands of years ago.

"Clonycavan Man". He is terrifying. Source. 
So what did I learn during my short yet horrifying experience with bog bodies? I learned that although the narrative surrounding the bog bodies is off-putting to say the least, they embody (pun intended) a wealth of information about past peoples and the potential continuity of the past with our present experiences. For example, using x-ray, MRI, and dating technology, scientists and archaeologists discovered that many of the victims' final meal before they met a violent end, was a breakfast of cereal: the same breakfast I eat almost every single morning. If that's not continuity, then I don't know what is!

The face of "Tollund Man". Source.
The moral of this super scary story is that even the creepiest of museum objects can have relatable histories. So the next time you see a truly terrifying object in a museum, make sure to check out the related didactic panels and curatorial information provided by museum staff, because you never know what connections you might make.

See you lovely readers next Museum Monday and feel free to post in the comments below with your own spine-tingling museum experiences. Happy Halloween!

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