There was an interesting programme on the BBC last night: Timewatch: The Bog Bodies. It followed the archeological research that followed the discovery of two bodies preserved in Irish peat bogs. As well as the scientists involved in dating the remains, the research team also had a forensic pathologist (shades of Silent Witness – she could have been the inspiration for Sam Ryan) who was able to establish the manner of death.
It appears that, in common with other similar finds, the two individuals did not go quietly into that long good night – they appear to have been tortured and killed. During the programme, reference was made to Tacitus, the Roman historian, who described such killings in Germany. A page from his Germany was shown, and the text (in translation) was: "Traitors and deserters are hung upon trees: cowards, shirkers and sodomites are suffocated in mud under a hurdle". Delightful.
Ned Kelly, of the Museum of Ireland, is of the opinion that these were ritual killings, "offerings to the gods of fertility by kings to ensure a successful reign". He claims that the bodies are found on the borders of royal land or tribal boundaries. Somehow, this doesn’t sound quite right to me. Surely sacrifices to ensure the fertility of land would be more likely to be made on some holy spot within the boundaries. Burying bodies outside of the land sounds to me more like a symbolic banishment of criminals or those who have been rejected by the society – the class described by Tacitus.