08/14/2013 05:14 am ET

4,000-Year-Old Irish 'Bog Body' Could Be Sacrificed King, Say Researchers


Nearly two years after they were first discovered, the remains of an unidentified human discovered in an Irish peat bog have revealed intriguing details about the ancient man's life -- and his brutal death. The 4,000-year-old Laois bog body, also known as "Cashel man," is believed to be one of the oldest such bog bodies ever discovered.

The man's remains were found accidentally in 2011 by a peat-cutter working in a County Laois bog in central Ireland, reports Irish news outlet The Journal. The headless body was initially thought to belong to a female somewhere between 2,000 and 3,000 years old, according to Ireland's RTE News. However, the newest research paints a far different picture.

Using sophisticated radiocarbon techniques, archaeologists were able to date the skeleton to the early Bronze Age, around 2,000 B.C., according to The Irish Times. If correct, this means that the remains -- which predate such famous mummies as Egypt's Tutankhamun -- could be some of the oldest in the world.

Eamonn Kelly, keeper of Irish antiquities at the National Museum of Ireland, told the Times that the positioning of the body has also yielded important clues about the man's demise. Wounds to the body's arms and cuts on its back might point to a violent death, specifically that of a ritual sacrifice sometimes inflicted on kings who had fallen out of favor, according to The Times.

"All the indications are that the human remains from Cashel Bog tell of the fate of a young king who, through folly or misadventure, was deemed to have failed to appease the goddess on whose benevolence his people depended, and who paid the ultimate price," Kelly said, according to the Laois Nationalist.

Over the years, bogs scattered across Europe have proved to be treasure troves of well-preserved bodies. The finds always excite archaeologists because the peat often preserves details of ancient life, from what people wore to how they ate, to how they were executed.

A large number of these bog bodies have evidence of torture or ritualistic killing, according to the History Channel, leading some researchers to speculate that a bog burial was a special event for ancient cultures.