A Train, a Museum, a Sunny Day


I went to Dublin for the second time on a mission (from God, naturally): I wanted to go to the archaeological museum and see the exhibit on the bog bodies of Ireland. And I wanted to do it in a day. Mission impossible? Of course not! I had a train day, a la Sheldon of the Big Bang Theory.

The day started out fairly early, with a walk to the train station and about three hours spent looking out the window at the countryside out the window. Then I was in Dublin:

It was one of those magical sunny days that just did not happen so often while I was in Ireland, right at the time of year when the country became blanketed in a bright vibrant green. It was pure magic to walk along the quay and make my way into the center of the city, bathed in light.

Finally – after a couple of wrong turns – I got to the National Museum of Ireland:

I sped directly to the exhibit on the bog bodies. Well, almost directly. This museum is just the kind of place that makes you forget what you came there to do and to see, because even without all the fabulous exhibits, the building itself makes you lose yourself. Eventually, I wound my way to my destination:

This gentleman was found in 1953, but wasn’t very well preserved. So he’s an excuse to talk about other things. These bodies were human sacrifices to the gods and were often associated with rituals of kingship. Humans weren’t the only ones deposited in bogs: anything that could have been valuable to these people were candidates for burial in the bogs. Weapons, tools, ritualistic objects could be placed in the bogs for the deities to enjoy.

In fact, there was also a huge wooden boat in the museum, something that would have disintegrated if left open to the elements under normal circumstances. Leaving something in the bog is like leaving it in a state of stasis – you never know what you might find, but it’s much more likely to be intact.

This man is fascinating, though unfortunately chopped in half by a peat cutting machine when he was discovered in 2003. When he was discovered, he had a moustache and a goatee, as well as an elaborate hairstyle held in place with gel. It has been estimated that he was about five feet nine inches tall, that he was over 25 years old, and that when he had died he had been living on a plant based diet. This issue of the diet he had been eating doesn’t necessarily say too much about status in this case: people would eat a plant based diet during the summer and autumn months and a meat based diet during the winter. He was naked when he was interred into the bog (most bodies had, at the very least, a cape) and had been hit over the head with an axe and disemboweled.

What would have set this man apart from his peers would have predominantly been his height – six feet three inches. In my opinion, it would have been very unlikely to have had a person of this height normally: it would have either been the product of superior genes and nutrition or a genetic disorder called gigantism. (Disclaimer: I am not an expert. Quote at our own risk.) This man would also have been over 25 years in age but would have died early in the year, meaning that a meat-based diet was more evident. However, when the contents of his stomach were examined (yes, the stomach was preserved after thousands of years…wow) it was found that his last meal consisted of cereals and buttermilk, suggesting that something was a bit awry. His death was also not completely congruent with a sacrifice – the fatal wound that we can find is a stab wound on his chest and evidence that this was an attack. If more of his body was present, we might have found head wounds or wounds to his legs (leg wounds would have been going after the femoral artery, a common target). He would have been someone of high status; we know this because of how remarkably well his hands are preserved – there are even still fingerprints – his hands bore evidence of a manicure and very marginal physical labor.

This is the earliest-discovered body of the four: it was found in 1821. That means that he was not cared for in the best way possible, as those means had not been invented yet. He has desiccated and his hair has fallen out, so he does not have very much to say.

If you’re wondering why these bodies don’t look exactly as you thought they would, there are some reasons for this. First of all, bogs are not all created alike: they can contain different amounts of different chemicals which can alter preservation or color. Second, these bodies have been treated so that they are coated in a substance that stalls further decay; that treatment changes the color somewhat. Other bog bodies have been found in Denmark, Germany, the Netherlands, and Britain; all are different but somehow tied together by a common practice.

The rest of the museum is filled with medieval religious artifacts, Neolithic jewelry, an intriguing Egyptian section (which had a Roman-Egyptian mummy I had seen in textbooks, very cool), and an extensive if a bit monotonous section on the Greeks and Romans. I rather liked the section on jewelry, as it was the most beautiful by far:

They also had small models of a Viking town and a cutaway view of a Viking house I found to be fascinating:

There would typically be about 15-20 people living in each Viking house, though considering a Scandinavian winter, it would likely still have been rather cold.

I was just about done with the museum when I went to go find the café, so that I could eat my packed lunch when I ran into Fabio – Fabio was someone from Sweden I met on the bus back from Dublin, met up with again in Cork (on purpose), and then finally I saw him serendipitously there in the museum in Dublin. I figure if you get around enough in the world, strange things start to happen to you – I’ve chronicled most of mine for you – and that a weird kind of luck accumulates. So I wasn’t so very surprised to find Fabio there, nipping into the museum to take advantage of free public bathrooms. We sat and had lunch together and parted ways for the last time…though perhaps just for now.

My favorite thing about the museum had to have been their floors, so I’ll close down the subject with that. They were carpeted with mind-blowing mosaics, especially where the Neolithic jewelry was located:

After the museum, I realized exactly how much time I had left before I wanted to leave the city, so I went to St. Stephen’s Green again, which was not even three minutes away. By that time the park had lost some of its early-spring airbrushed quality and burst into lushness:

Did I mention that it was a photographer’s paradise?

A note on this last picture: whenever I saw trash bags on the curb of a European street, I always would wonder how many sliced up American tourists might be contained within them. Gross, yes. Macabre, yes. But also highly entertaining. (And now I’ve ruined you! Ha.)

Finally, I walked back along the river to get back to Heuston Station. I cast several looks back, trying to burn the image of this wonderful city into my brain:

I boarded the train and left the city.

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