The Bocksten Man is the remains of a mediæval male body found in a bog in Varberg Municipality, Sweden. It is one of the best-preserved finds in Europe from that era and is exhibited at the County Museum of Halland.
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Burials in bogs went on for millennia


Depositing bodies in mires and bogs is a tradition that has been going on for millennia throughout Europe – and according to a study, many of these individuals met with a violent end. This study of remains by archaeologists includes over 40 individuals from Sweden, with the Bocksten man and the Luttra Woman being the most well-known.

Reconstruction of the Luttra Woman, also known as "Hallonflickan" or "Raspberry Girl,", following a find of a 5,000 year old skeleton of a girl about 19 years old when she died. The reconstruction is by model maker Oscar Nilsson in Stockholm.
Photo: Falbygdens Museum, Falköping

All around Europe, human remains have been found in mires and bogs. Archaeologists divide these remains into two groups: bog mummies and bog skeletons. Several finds of bog mummies are renowned for being extremely well preserved, such as the Bocksten Man. He was found in a mire and lived in the Middle Ages.

“But most finds of human remains in bog areas in Sweden are preserved as skeletons,” says Sophie Bergerbrant, an archaeologist who was part of the international team and is affiliated with the University of Gothenburg.  

“Nobody has looked at the whole picture before. Instead, the focus has been on the bog mummies that are best preserved.”

Bog mummies found in Sweden

In the study, archaeologists analysed over 1000 individuals, including 260 from Scandinavia, 40 of which were found in Sweden.

“We can conclude that this is a much larger time span than was previously thought. Now that we have analysed this with a longer term perspective, we have been able to see that bodies have been deposited in mires and bogs during six periods, the last of which extends into the 18th century.  We have seen a new pattern that we were not aware of previously.”

Sophie Bergerbrant takes the Dannike Woman as evidence that this method of burial was also going on in Sweden into the 18th century.

“She was buried in a bog at some point in the late 17th or early 18th century.”

A long tradition of these burials

Sophie Bergerbrant is an archaeologist and affiliated with the research project Rise II at the University of Gothenburg.

The study investigated all types of human remains found in bogs around Europe. The archaeologists concluded that this was a long tradition with deep roots. The phenomenon of burying people in this way began in southern Scandinavia during the Mesolithic period, around 8000 BC, and then spread over northern Europe.

The study and the international team of researchers were led from Wageningen University in the Netherlands, and the results have been published in the scientific journal Antiquity.

“We show that previous archaeological investigations that focused solely on the well-preserved bog mummies have not given the whole picture. All categories of human remains have valuable information. And when we analysed these, a new picture became apparent.”

The study also establishes that many of the individuals found in the bogs met with a violent end. In cases where it has been possible to establish the cause of death, it appears to be due to extreme violence and the person then being deliberately left in the bog. In the past, the violence was interpreted as being due to human sacrifices, the execution of criminals, or that people have simply fallen victim to violence in other ways.

However, the study indicates that a remarkably large number of these individuals died by accident or in some cases by suicide. This is based on historical sources.

Some bogs were also more ‘popular’ than others for depositing bodies. At some sites, many remains of bodies have been found. In some other instances, the bodies were deposited in a one-off event such as a mass grave after a battle. Other bogs have been used time and time again and objects have also been buried in them, which the archaeologists interpret as being ritual offerings. These include everything from animal bones to weapons and jewellery made of bronze. These sites have been interpreted as ‘cult sites’ that must have had a central place in the local religion or society. A Swedish example of this is Skedemosse on the island of Öland.

The study is published in the journal Antiquity. ”Bogs, bones and bodies: the deposition of human remains in northerna Euriopean mires (9000 BC-Ad 1900)”

Text: Cecilia Sjöberg

Figure 2. Distribution of different site types (a) and preservation (b) of human remains in European mires (maps by the authors; peatland distribution based on Tannebergeret al. 2017). 
Photo: (karta av författarna, torv spridningen baserad på Tanneberger et al. 2017).


Sophie Bergerbrant, Phone: +46 70-675 6130, e-mail:

Cecilia Sjöberg, Communications officer tel: +46 766-18 63 51


Facts in brief

The remains analysed in the study can be divided into three categories: