The Scaleby Bog Body: Background (Scaleby East & West)

Old Croghan Man, Nat Mus Dublin

A body found in 1845 at Scaleby, north of Carlisle turned out to be possibly a woman who had been deliberately killed and buried in the bog, more than 2000 years before.

In 1845 George Hogg made a surprising discovery while digging for peat. Eight or nine feet down in the bog he found human remains wrapped up in a deer hide garment, and tied with leather thongs.  Parts of the skeleton survived, together with intestines, which ‘seemed to have undergone something like the process of tanning’ (Carlisle Journal, 7 June 1845). The skull turned up a little later, with black hair, many teeth, and ‘a large portion of brain’.  The preservation of the bones is unusual: usually with bog bodies the acid conditions eat away the bones, while the anaerobic conditions can preserve the skin. Nothing was found with the body apart from the garment, and a thick heavy stick held in one hand, three feet long and twelve inches in circumference. From the fact that the body was full grown, but of small stature, it was speculated that it might have been a woman: and even in 1845 it was recognised that the body had lain there since prehistoric times.

The skeleton and other parts were sent by a local clergyman to the Derbyshire antiquary, Thomas Bateman. His collection was auctioned off in 1893 and somehow seems to have been acquired by the Natural History Museum. But while they were still there in 1965, they seem since to have been mislaid.

Bog bodies are much better known now than they were then, notably of course Lindow Man, but some eighty or so are known from the British Isles.  Although they seem usually to be Iron Age, this one may be early, even Bronze Age. Although accidental death cannot be ruled out the probability is that she (if it is a woman) was deliberately buried in the bog, having probably been deliberately killed.

Another Cumbrian bog body is known from Seascale Moss, a naked adult male discovered in 1834. From its description, this was more typical, in that the bones had gone, but the skin was preserved, giving ‘the hands the appearance of a pair of fine leather gloves: the nails still continuing on the fingers’ (Cumberland Pacquet, 3 June 1834).  A ‘walking stick of hazel’ was found with the body.  There was no evidence of violent death, but the deliberate placing of the body in the bog suggests it too was a ritual killing and deposition, probably Iron Age in date.

R C Turner, ‘A Cumbrian Bog Body from Scaleby’, TrCWAAS vol 88(1988), pp.1-7

R C Turner, ‘Another Cumbrian Bog Body, found in Seascale Moss in 1834, TrCWAAS, vol 89(1989), --21-23

Photo of the hand of an Irish Bog Body, Old Croghan Man, National Museum of Ireland, Dublin

Text and photo by Bill Shannon