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North Dakota State professor studying mummies preserved in bogs


A North Dakota State University professor is studying mummies that were preserved in peat bogs.

Anthropology professor Heather Gill-Robinson will be spending the summer studying six mummies and one skeleton in conjunction with Archaeologiesches Landesmuseum Schloss Gottorf, a museum in northern Germany.

Researchers are trying to determine why the conditions in marshy peat bogs preserves the bodies, Gill-Robinson said.

“We think there’s some sort of a process that’s happening when the body meets the bog, but we don’t know what it is,” she said.

Researchers also are not sure how the bodies ended up in the peat. Some likely were intentionally hidden.

At least one of the bodies Gill-Robinson is studying was the victim of a violent death. The man was decapitated, stabbed in the heart and mutilated.

Gill-Robinson has learned other details about the bodies, such as their ages, what they ate before they died and an idea of what their occupations were.

The bodies were found between 1871 and 1960. Gill-Robinson has been studying them since 2003.

In Germany this summer, she will focus her research on pottery that was found with the bodies. The artifacts may be cremation urns that could help researchers understand more about the bodies.

Recent NDSU graduates Charles Carlson and Damien Reinhart spent a year working with a sophisticated computer program, studying bones so they could produce three-dimensional models of the bodies.

Reinhart said the most interesting thing about the project is being able to tell the story of someone who died thousands of years ago.

“From the surface, it would appear the body’s not in that great of shape and we would not be able to learn that much about the person’s life and death,” Reinhart said. “But we’ve found all these intricate ways to coax out these things about the person’s life in ways that aren’t going to destroy the body.”

Information from: The Forum,

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