Scotland has two prehistoric mummies that were found in Cladh Hallan. These two bodies are not totally typical and are actually classified as bog bodies. But, what are bog bodies? They are bodies that have either been thrown into or fell into bogs while still living. Peat bogs in particular are helpful in preservation, thanks to their rich mats of sphagnum moss. As the sphagnum moss dies and is replaced by new growth, the old moss begins to turn to peat, which is great for heat. The bog water then interacts with the acids in the moss, produces tannin, and other chemicals that work to preserve the bodies. So, these two prehistoric mummies are important for two reasons, 1) They are the only prehistoric mummies to be found in Scotland, and 2) They are bog bodies...but now a third reason is arising: these two bodies aren’t two bodies.
The third unique element of the Cladh Hallan bodies? Each of these bodies are not singular bodies, which are in fact made from composite remains of several people.
Research has shown that these bodies were buried about 300-600 years after their deaths were discovered in 2001. They were buried so long after their deaths because the bodies were place specifically in a peat bog just long enough to keep them preserved. After that, they were reburied hundreds of years later.
They were found below the houses of Cladh Hallan, an 11th century village on the island of South Uist. Since their 2001 find, archaeological researchers have noted several strange details, especially in the female skeleton. These abnormalities include a jaw that did not fit the rest of the skull and face. And, over 10 years later, the DNA of both specimens was finally tested. This DNA testing revealed something entirely surprising: these skeletons were made up of completely different people, and, furthermore, people who did not even share the same mother. However, all the female body is made up of female bones that died around the same time. The male body, is slightly different, as it contains men that died a few HUNDRED years apart!
This is especially weird, as the bodies are still articulated, meaning they were attached to each other as they would be in life. The reasons as to why the villagers carried out this strange process or why they constructed these composite mummies. There are some theories, such as the were replacing the bones lost of an important person. Another theory is that they were built for symbolic reasons. This archaeological find also hints that there might be more bodies like this one to be found nearby and from afar.
This piece of astonishing archaeology raises many questions - why did they do this? how did they keep track of the bodies? and why go to the trouble of making this happen?
This image, entitled "Bog. Typical Mounth scenery - peat bog with dark pools. Lochnagar in the distance" by Richard Webb does not depict where the bog bodies were found. It is liscensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.