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Bog body.

Field workers in Ireland got a grisly surprise in February 2003: While cutting through mossy grasses, they spotted a brown-colored, leathery human head and torso in the mud. After an 18-month investigation, experts have uncovered some secrets about this mysterious man's life and death.

A careful examination showed that the remains of "Clonycavan Man"--who was named after the area where he was unearthed--had been buried in a soggy, mossy marsh for 2,300 years. To the amazement of archaeologists, or scientists who study ancient life, the remains found in the bog were relatively well preserved.

How did the body last so long? The unique chemistry of bogs helped to prevent Clonycavan Man's body from decaying, or breaking down, says Rolly Read, head of conservation at the National Museum of Ireland in Dublin, where the body currently resides. A bog's still water and layers of dead plant material shut out oxygen. So bacteria--which survive on oxygen--can't break down a body's flesh.

In addition, the plant material in a bog slowly releases another natural preservative: acids called tannins, or the same chemicals used to tan leather and make it durable. Besides toughening the remains, the tannins turned Clonycavan Man's skin a ginger color.

Nestled in this water-logged grave, even the man's teeth and hair remained intact. Stranger still, "the most striking feature was his hair, which was arranged up over his head," says Read. The team of experts was surprised to find that Clonycavan Man's hair was styled with an ancient form of hair gel. Lab tests showed that the gluey substance was made from vegetable oil and resin, or a sticky liquid that comes from trees. These substances would have been precious during Clonycavan Man's time. Read suspects the fashion-conscious man was a very important person.

The museum's scientists will continue to examine Clonycavan Man to learn more about his life. And this May, visitors to the National Museum of Ireland can take a peek at Clonycavan Man's well-preserved remains.
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Title Annotation:Clonycavan Man, 2300 year old dead body found
Author:Barrow, Karen
Publication:Science World
Geographic Code:4EUIR
Date:Mar 27, 2006
Previous Article:No lab required.
Next Article:Explain this! Sunny-side up?

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