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Dublin: -2 °C Thursday 27 November, 2014

Bog body found in Co Laois could be that of sacrificed king

The National Museum of Ireland’s head of antiquities says further examination of the human remains would reveal more details about their life and social status.

File image of Oldcroghan Man, a bog body on display at the National Museum which suffered the 'nipple damage' described by Kelly.
File image of Oldcroghan Man, a bog body on display at the National Museum which suffered the 'nipple damage' described by Kelly.
Image: National Museum of Ireland

THE IRON-AGE BODY recovered from a bog in Co Laois last week is likely to be that of a young man killed according to the succession rites of kingship, according to the National Museum of Ireland’s head of antiquities.

Ned Kelly told TheJournal.ie today that the human remains accidentally discovered by Bord na Móna turf-cutting staff in Co Laois last week have been carefully removed from the soil and transported to cold storage at the museum’s facilities in Dublin.

The body could be up to 3,000 years old.

Initially, it was thought that the body was wrapped in a bag, with only the lower legs protruding. “It was in a very contorted position,” Kelly said. However, further examination showed that what had appeared to be a bag was actually the corpse’s torso.

Although the head suffered some damage at the time of its discovery, Kelly is optimistic that this will still be the most complete body recovered from an Irish bog. He said that parts of the jaw and face have been recovered.

Kingship

“Some cuts on the body suggest a ritual killing,” Kelly said. He explained how religious beliefs at the time tied kingship with land:

Irish kings in the ancient period were replaced after a number of years. The old king would be sacrificed and a new king chosen. It ties in with their religious beliefs surrounding the solar deity (male) and the deity of the land (female). The king ties in with the solar cycle – the waxing and waning of the sun.

The idea was that the king was married to the sovereignty, or the land. The goddess would become old and withered and she would need a new young consort to return her to youth and vigour and beauty. So the old kind would be killed and a new one take his place. They wouldn’t have been that old, either.

Borders

Kelly says that he flagged this area of bogland as being of particular interest because it lies on the border of two ancient kingdoms:

All of the other bog bodies were found on significant boundaries. The idea is that because the goddess is the land, by inserting bodies and other items relating to their inauguration as king along the boundaries, it gives form to the goddess.

More detailed examination of the body could reveal other clues about the man’s lifestyle and status. His last meal may have been preserved in his stomach. Kelly said that if the hands have been well preserved, they could show whether he engaged in manual labour or not. If not, it would suggest he came from the upper levels of society.

Kelly also said that museum staff will check if any other injuries were inflicted on the body and determine his age and if he had suffered any illnesses. He said that the preservation of the man’s nipples was also important, as on previous bog bodies such as Oldcroghan Man they had been cut to indicate this person was a king.

“The kissing or suckling of a king’s nipples was a gesture of submission,” Kelly said. “So by cutting the nipples, the king was being decommissioned.”

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