A mysterious set of bones has been found in a bog in Europe, and they may point to an ancient ritual.

  • A partial skeleton thought to be 5,000 years old has been found in Denmark.

  • The skeleton may be part of a collection of “swamp corpses” found throughout Northern Europe.

  • Evidence also suggests that the “swamp body” may have been there as part of a ritual.

Archaeologists in Denmark have discovered an ancient, well-preserved skeleton that may be the remains of a ritual sacrifice practiced more than 5,000 years ago.

Researchers at ROMU, an organization representing 10 museums in Denmark, were excavating a planned housing estate in Egedal Municipality, near Copenhagen.

One of the team members, Christian Dedenroth-Schou, came across a thigh bone protruding from the mud during his research. After digging some more, Dedenroth-Schou and his colleagues were able to find almost all of both legs, a pelvis and a jawbone.

The researchers figured out that it was a “swamp body”, referring to the dozens of usually male bodies found in marshes across Europe. Bodies often remain intact despite being thousands of years old, as the anaerobic and acidic environments of swamps make it difficult for bacteria to survive. This process is also how peat is formed from sphagnum moss.

One of the most famous bog corpses, Tollund Man, was also found in Denmark.

A jawbone and thighbone in the swamp

Courtesy of ROMU

According to ROMU, the skeleton is incomplete and has “no direct sign of sacrifice”, but archaeologists believe the swamp person was not simply the victim of a thoughtless murder, but rather the victim of a planned ritual ceremony.

The swamps appear to have played an important role for the ancient peoples of Northern Europe because of the resources they provided and were believed to be “the gateway between the world of men and the world of gods,” according to the Danish National Museum.

The unearthed swamp men were offerings to the gods between 4300 BC and 600 BC, or between the Neolithic and Iron Ages.

A jawbone and thighbone in the swamp

Courtesy of ROMU

Finding flint axes, animal bones and ceramics from the Stone Age near the site of the skeleton found at Egedal led the researchers to conclude that these pieces may have been left as part of a ritual.

Emil Winther Struve, ROMU’s chief archaeologist, told Live Science that the ax was never used, giving credence to the theory that the ax was used as a votive rather than a murder weapon.

“The finding fits with the tradition of ritually burying both objects, people and animals in the swamp. This was common practice throughout ancient times, and it is most likely a victim of such a ritual,” Struve said in a press release. . “Previous finds indicate that this was an area where ritual activities took place.”

Much is unknown about the skeleton, including the sex of the person, where he lived, and when he died. Excavation leader Emil Struve told Live Science that there is evidence that the body is from the Neolithic period because “customs of human sacrifice go back that far.”

The area has now been evacuated, and archaeologists hope to use DNA technology and conduct a more extensive excavation to find the remaining bones when the ground thaws in the spring.

“Consider whether that person would be glad to be found or would he rather rest in peace,” Dedenroth-Schou said in a press release translated from Danish. “After all, we don’t know much about their religion. Maybe we’re spoiling the concept of an afterlife. But we also have the important task of ensuring that the remains of a human are not just dug up. It’s a digger and it eventually turns into a big pile of dirt.”

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