An ancient and well-preserved skeleton – potentially a remnant of a ritual sacrifice practiced over 5,000 years ago – was discovered by archeologists in Denmark.
Researchers at ROMU, an organization representing 10 museums in Denmark, had been excavating on the site of a planned housing development in the Egedal Municipality, near Copenhagen.
During their survey, Christian Dedenroth-Schou, one of the team members, came across a femur sticking out of the mud.
After digging further into the dirt, Dedenroth-Schou and his colleagues were able to find nearly all the bones from both legs, a pelvis, and a jaw.
Researchers understood it to be a "bog body" which refers to the dozens of usually male bodies found in bogs in Europe.
The bodies often remain well-intact, despite being thousands of years old, as a result of the oxygen-deficient and acidic environments of bogs that make it difficult for bacteria to survive. This process is also how peat is formed from sphagnum moss.
One of the most famous bog bodies, the Tollund Man, was also found in Denmark.
The skeleton is not complete, and there are "no direct traces of sacrifice," according to ROMU, but archeologists believe that the bog person was not simply the victim of a thoughtless murder but rather a planned ritual ceremony.
It is understood that bogs played a significant role for the ancient people of Northern Europe for the resources they provided and were believed to be "the gateway between the world of mankind and the world of the gods," according to the National Museum of Denmark.
The bog men unearthed could have been offerings to the gods between 4,300 BCE and 600 BCE – or between the Neolithic and Iron Ages.
A Stone Age-era flint ax, remnants of animal bones, and ceramics were found near the site of the skeleton found in Egedal, which led researchers to the conclusion that the items might have been left as part of a ritual.
Emil Winther Struve, the lead archaeologist with ROMU, told LiveScience that the ax had never been used, lending credence to the theory that the ax was used as an offering, rather than a murder weapon.
"The find fits into a proven tradition of ritually burying both objects, people, and animals in the bog. This has been widely done throughout ancient times, and this is most likely a victim of such a ritual," Struve said in a press release.
"Previous finds show that it is an area where ritual activity has taken place."
Much about the skeleton – including the sex, where the person lived, and when the person died – remains unknown.
Emil Struve, the excavation leader, told LiveScience that there was evidence that the body was from the Neolithic because "traditions of human sacrifices date back that far."
The site has now been drained, and the archaeologists are hoping to use DNA technology and do a more thorough excavation to find the rest of the bones when the ground thaws in the spring.
"You think about whether that person would be happy to be found or whether they would rather have rested in peace," Dedenroth-Schou said in a press release, translated from Danish.
"After all, we don't know much about their religion. Perhaps we are disrupting a notion of the afterlife. But at the same time, we have an important task in ensuring that the remains of a person are not just dug up with an excavator and end up in a big pile of dirt."
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