The ancient, the dead and the possibly metrosexual

Ransom Riggs

"As if he had been poured in tar, he lies on a pillow of turf and seems to weep the black river of himself. The grain of his wrists is like bog oak, the ball of his heel like a basalt egg."

So says the great Nobel Prize-winning poet Seamus Heaney of the Grauballe Man, one of more than a thousand well-preserved, ancient corpses found in peat bogs throughout Northern Europe over the past two hundred years or so. It's the bogs' unique conditions and chemical composition -- the acidity of the water, cold temperature and the lack of oxygen "“- that tends to preserve the skin and organs of those interred in them, sometimes for as long as 10,000 years. There are lots of things experts can divine from studying these strange biological "“ and sociological "“ time capsules, from the diet of the deceased (by studying the contents of the stomach) to the way that they died (many were violently killed: stabbed, bludgeoned or strangled; the remarkable Tollund Man was found with a noose still wrapped around his neck).

However, there's one thing in particular experts find puzzling: many of the bog people appear to have groomed themselves with great care. It's not uncommon for the boggies to have nicely-manicured fingers (pictured), artfully placed tattoos or even trendy hairdos. The 2300-year-old Clonycavan Man, discovered in an Irish peat bog in 2003, sports a well-coiffed mohawk held in place by a gel made from plant derivatives from southern France "“ ie, imported hair product.

From this, experts have deduced that either 1) Northern European Iron Agers were of a more, shall we say, metrosexual bent than other civilizations, or 2) the fact that all these well-groomed ladies and fellows were murdered ritualistically means that the bog people were either criminals who were allowed to get fancied up before their deaths, or more likely they were of high social standing, and bumped off for political reasons. Either way, it's fascinatingly weird.