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This weblog contains human remains which some readers may find disturbing

We visited 'The Mysterious Bog People' exhibition at the Museum of Science and Industry in Manchester ( the day after we had visited a number of prehistoric sites in North Wales. The fact that we had just seen some of the great monuments built by people contemporary with those human beings exhibited in the show gave it more weight, more meaning and somehow more reverence.

The exhibition was lit very low due to the fragile, light-sensitivity of many of the exhibits, including the bodies. But this also had the effect of adding to the 'gravitas' and sense of something very, very special. No-one spoke loudly and the children looked at the displays with quiet, quizzical awe. Visitors were taken through stunning displays from the Neolithic through time right up to the medieval, charting the objects which were found in, or near to bogs, and the described the context of the finds.

It was a long way into the exhibition, once the context had been fully understood, until one reached the first body. But before we even reached it, we already been treated to some of the astonishing and precious finds which had been ritually placed into the bog:
- a reconstruction of a wooden trackway showing how people travelled across the boggy margins
- a mind-blowing collection of beautiful polished axes of various stone types
- two bronze age wooden wheels from Midlaren in the Netherlands, where Moth, Cleo and I visited just three months ago to see the pair of hunebedden there
- polished flint axes, also from Midlaren, NL
- fabulous beakers and other pottery with delicate zigzag decoration, also from Dutch bogs, and
- in addition to the many bronze axe heads, even a mould for casting a socked axe.

So by the time you reach the first 'ultimate sacrifice', as the display put it, you are ready to see it. In truth, he looked like a leathery doggy chew, but the fact that he still existed - right here - along with all these objects, along with all the burial chambers his contemporaries had built and we had seen the day before was jaw-dropping. You could imagine this remnant of humanity living again, wearing the amber beads in the next display case, playing his lur, putting on his delicately crafted leather shoes and stepping out of his house to play with his children.

A reconstrution of what was interpreted to be a temple from Barger-Oosterveld was also on prominent display. Dated 1470BC, the original wooden eaves and posts were displayed alongside photographs of the 'ground plan' archaeology discovered at the edge of a bog in the Netherlands. It reminded me of a Menorcan Taula monument.

One of the most powerful exhibits to me were a pair of plaits of hair which had been put on a piece of wood and deposited into the bog at Odoorn, NL. In December, we visited Odoorn to see the hunebed there:

Just like the precious locks of hair I have of my children cut when they were tiny. Next to it in the display case was a bronze age ball of wool. Exactly like the balls of wool my grandmother had. Exactly the same.

So connected do you feel to these ordinary people, who we know were just like you and I are now, that when you come face-to-face with the Weerdinge couple you feel as if you somehow knew these guys.

It didn't feel ghoulish, disrespectful or freaky at all. Quite the reverse, in fact. You wonder, instead, what these men felt when they were dispatched. Did they know they would be sacrificed and placed in the bog? If they did, how did they feel about that? Special? Scared? Both? And what about their families?

Did Yde girl know what was coming? The mortal remains of this 16-year-old lie on a hospital bed, as if waiting to be put into a MRI scanner. I looked closely at her shrunken, deformed leathery head, her little mummified toes peeping out from beneath a blanket and thought - this was once someone's beautiful daughter, perhaps someone's beautiful mother. I saw her life, not her death.

I must also mention the oldest wooden logboat ever discovered on display there. Ten thousand years old! Amazing. Carved out of a log with flint. Reconstructions of it have revealed it to be perfectly useable and manoeuvrable. How cool is THAT!

There are also Iron Age bodies and artifacts, Roman coins and jewellery, and early modern pottery to enjoy. Finally, the exhibition concludes with a wishing well and asks visitors to consider exactly what they are doing and thinking when they throw objects of value into a pool. How different is it to what went on in the past?

Many of the exhibits were on loan from the Drents Museum at Assen in the Netherlands. Check out it's a great website. Better still, better go there.

Jane Posted by Jane
30th March 2005ce
Edited 24th November 2005ce

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