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Fact Sheet


The Mysterious Bog People

der Tempel im Moor

Le mystérieux peuple des tourbières

Background to the exhibition

Through its rich artifacts, creative design, interpretive programming and interactive displays, The Mysterious Bog People will educate visitors on the religious beliefs of the people of northwestern Europe, their daily lives around the bog and the historical significance of their culture. It will also shed light on the properties of peat bogs and on conservation and reconstruction techniques.

The Mysterious Bog People is the first international touring exhibition to tell the story of life in Northern Europe from the Stone Age to the end of the sixteenth century and to reveal the importance of the discoveries in European bogs, which shed light on the everyday lives, ideas and beliefs of ancient peoples. Through artifacts, text panels, settings, lighting and sound, the exhibition aims to provide visitors with a full experience of the bog offerings and the bog environment in northwestern Europe which have preserved these fascinating relics.

The artifacts selected for display will tell the story of the people who lived near the bogs and their culture. They will include bog mummies – and details on the reconstruction of individuals like the "Yde Girl" using modern forensic science – and a host of objects found in the bogs, such as flint and bronze axes, pottery, bronze swords, leather shoes, textiles, gold coins, jewellery, musical instruments and agricultural tools.

dagger

Flint dagger with a wooden grip, leather shaft and straps,
found in a bog near Wiepenkathen, Germany, dating to the
late Neolithic Period (about 2000 B.C.). Drents Museum.

The exhibition will also feature one of the oldest artifacts from a European bog, the Pesse dugout canoe which was found in 1955 and has been carbon dated between B.C. 8040 and 7510. It is the oldest known boat in the world and was made from a Scots pine with the use of flint axes. This remarkable object will serve to explain what a bog environment is like and how it acts to preserve organic matter.

In prehistoric times, as northwestern Europe became increasingly wet, peat began to form and vast areas were covered by bogs. People lived peacefully on the high, dry land between the bogs.

Dangerous and often foggy places where one could easily get lost and drown, the bogs were shrouded in mystery. It is easy to understand why people believed they were inhabited by gods and spirits, who had control over life and death, health, crops, cattle and the fate of humans.

Good relations with these powerful beings were essential and could be maintained through offerings, which were deposited at the threshold of the dwelling place of the divine. Valuable items such as grain, antlers, pottery, wheels, weapons and jewellery were left in the bogs, turning them into immense reservoirs of gifts. Anything of value could be used as an offering. Even people were sacrificed to propitiate or thank the gods.

In early modern times, people began to exploit the bogs. As huge quantities of turf were cut for fuel, the gifts that had been buried for the gods were gradually uncovered, providing a glimpse of the life of our ancestors.

One of the themes of the exhibition is the practice of making offerings, through which prehistoric people tried to control their fate. Visitors will be astonished by the wide range of objects that were carefully laid down in the bogs. These items shed light on religious practices in northwestern Europe in prehistoric times and provide substantial information on daily life. They will be complemented by a number of everyday objects from different archaeological sites showing the special character and value of the bog finds.

The exhibition will also reveal the botanical nature of bogs, which preserve objects that would decay under normal burial conditions. The history, biology and preservation properties of bogs will be clearly demonstrated. The technique of reconstruction using modern forensic science will also be examined. Scientists can reconstruct facial features from a skull that is very well preserved. Using clay or wax, the tissues and skin are modelled on a copy of the skull. Other facial features such as eyes and hair are also added, giving an impression of what the individual looked like. The reconstruction technique of the Yde Girl will be presented in the exhibition.

Dr. Wijnand van der Sanden and Yde Girl

In 1993, a facial reconstruction of Yde Girl was made
at Manchester University. By means of CT-scans at
the University Hospital of Groningen, a reconstruction
of her skull was modelled into the appearance she would
have had when alive. Drents Museum.

The exhibition will also explore the scientific techniques and forensic analysis used to determine the age of the objects found in the bogs of northwestern Europe. The scientific component of the exhibition places it at the leading edge of international archaeological discovery about prehistoric Europe. Forensic research currently being conducted on one of the bog mummies of the Niedersächsisches Landesmuseum is revealing very interesting historical and archaeological evidence in support of the theory that the bogs were indeed centres of spiritual activity and significance to early Northern Europeans.

The Mysterious Bog People is a unique exhibition. Never before have so many bog mummies and offerings been brought together, providing valuable insight into the practices of our ancestors. Even the remains of the only known wooden Bronze Age temple will be on display.

Among the prehistoric persons that visitors will encounter are Red Franz, found in 1900 in Germany, and a 16-year-old girl from Yde, discovered three years earlier in the Netherlands. Although these two ancient Germans could not have met while alive, they will lie peacefully side by side in the exhibition.

Fans of Vincent Van Gogh will also have a rare opportunity to see a painting that captures the often desolate atmosphere of the bogs.

Exhibition Products
  • An illustrated book will be produced in four languages: English, French, Dutch and German.
  • A book for children on European prehistory will be produced (to be confirmed).
  • A variety of products such as postcards, jewellery made of amber and silver, T-shirts, pins, shoe kits for children, and typical Dutch and German products will be sold in the partner Museums' boutiques.
The Mysterious Bog People Result of Museum Partnership

This exhibition is a joint international project of the Drents Museum in Assen (Netherlands), the Niedersächsisches Landesmuseum in Hanover (Germany), the Canadian Museum of Civilization in Hull (Quebec, Canada) and the Glenbow Museum in Calgary (Alberta, Canada).

The Mysterious Bog People is a unique project, as it is the first time that important bog finds will be brought together on a major North American-European collaborative scale, and it is the most extensive international partnership ever undertaken by the partner Museums.

Background to research

Bog finds have continued to enjoy the interest of many scholars at home and abroad since the time of the Drents Museum founding. The Drents Museum was one of the first museums in the Netherlands to have its own archaeologist. From the time of the First World War (1918) to the 1950s, Dr. A. E. Van Giffen was responsible for maintaining and expanding the Museum's archaeological department. As director and professor of the distinguished Biological and Archaeological Institute of the University of Groningen, he was the first to apply an approach to archaeological digs in the northern regions of the Netherlands that was both systematic and scientific.

Due to intensive bog and heath drainage carried out before and between the two world wars, the number of archaeologists involved with the Museum grew. As a result of the work of Van Giffen and his successors, the Drents Museum in Assen has one of the most important archaeological collections in northwestern Europe. The same could be said of the collection belonging to the Niedersächsisches Landesmuseum in Hanover, another of the partners in this project.

In Germany, the first studies of the then-known bog bodies were carried out by a woman pioneer of archaeology in the 1870s: Johanna Mestorf wrote a catalogue of bog bodies, interpreting them as the victims of murder. This interpretation would change over the years, but German archaeologists were still among the first to discuss bog finds and bog mummies seriously. From 1907 on, Hans Hahne, Director of the Niedersächsisches Landesmuseum, conducted some very important research which is today carried on by a number of specialized archaeologists excavating spectacular bog sites in Lower Saxony. The Niedersächsisches Landesmuseum possesses one of the best-known bog mummies: Red Franz, a man with bright red hair and beard, killed around 300 A.D.

It was not until the mid-1980s that Drents Museum archaeologist Dr. W. A. B. Van der Sanden began work on the artifacts from the highly productive Drenthe marshes. In 1990, he published the results of his research in a thesis entitled Mens en Moeras (or The Bog People). As a direct result of his research, the head of one of the bog mummies was reconstructed to produce an image of what we know as the Yde Girl. Since 1994, this resurrected prehistoric girl has formed the gruesome centrepiece of any visit to the Museum's prehistory department. What is more, both national and international interest in mummies found in the bogs has soared, reaching a climax with the release of two films, one made in 1997 by Discovery Channel and the other in 1998 by the BBC, and with an exhibition of the bog mummies, created by the Drents Museum and presented in Silkeborg, Denmark.

The Creation of a Partnership

With the enormous public interest generated by the first exhibitions of the reconstructed head of the Yde Girl, the staff of the Drents Museum began to consider mounting an exhibition on the subject of prehistoric reconstruction.

Initially, this display was to be on a small scale, linked only to the phenomenon of the mummies. A preliminary concept was presented to the Canadian Museum of Civilization and to the Glenbow Museum in November 1995. By this time, members of the scientific staff of the Drents Museum were convinced that a temporary exhibition on the subject of the material witnesses to prehistoric man – which would include not only bog mummies but also items found in the bogs – could be very attractive on an international scale.

A formal partnership proposal was made to the Canadian Museum of Civilization in 1998. In 1999, the Drents Museum approached the Niedersächsisches Landesmuseum's team of experts on the archaeology of northwestern Europe, and they became interested in the idea of the exhibition. Now it was possible to present the almost international phenomenon of bog finds in an appropriate way on the basis of the collections in Assen, Hanover and other well-known museums. Soon the Glenbow Museum in Calgary also joined the project. The four museums have been working on the project since that time. Such partnerships are not common in the museum world. The two Europeans partners are providing their expertise in relation to the content, curatorial research and collections, while the two Canadian partners are offering their leadership in museology, project management, promotion and fundraising.

About the Web Site

The Drents Museum, in collaboration with the partner Museums, will produce a virtual exhibition Web site for The Mysterious Bog People. It will be hosted on each partner Museum's Web site and will be available in four languages: German, English, French and Dutch.

The Web site being launched in July 2001 is a preview of the official site. It contains images and video clips of the reconstruction of the dugout canoe from Pesse. In August 1955, during the construction of part of the A28 motorway in the municipality then known as Ruinen, at a location directly south of the village of Pesse and about 4 kilometres north of Hoogeveen, a tree trunk was found lying in a horizontal position underground. With some difficulty, it was hoisted up and placed onto a cart. During transport, the object rolled from the cart and fell to the side of the road. A few days later, an observant inhabitant of Pesse, Hendrik Wanders (a farmer), noticed the trunk and immediately saw it as an ancient boat. Using a large wheelbarrow, he transported the object to his house, where he laid it in his garden. The chairman of the Drents Prehistorische Vereniging (Drenthe prehistoric society) and the treasurer of the Friends of the Drents Museum Foundation were then notified. The latter advised keeping the trunk wet by wrapping it in bags and then informed Prof. H. T. Waterbolk, the director of the Biological Archaeological Institute in Groningen.

The dugout canoe was recently reconstructed, and the delicate and time-consuming process is documented on the Web site. This canoe is the oldest prehistoric artifact from a European bog. It was found in 1955 and has been carbon dated to between B.C. 8040 and 7510. The reconstruction of this remarkable object will serve to explain what a bog environment is like and how it acts to preserve organic matter. The Niedersächsisches Landesmuseum will probably present some of the latest exciting research done on the bog mummy known as Red Franz.

The official Web site will be launched in May 2002, to correspond with the opening of the exhibition at its first venue at the Niedersächsisches Landesmuseum in Germany. The completed Web site will be based on the content of the exhibition and will also include more in-depth information on the curatorial research. The bog findings, the bog environment and the lives of the Northern Europeans who lived near the bogs will be described. Images of the artifacts will also be featured on the site. The Niedersächsisches Landesmuseum will present some of the latest exciting research done on the bog mummy known as Red Franz.

   


Created: July 5, 2001. Last update: August 30, 2001
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