The bog body known as the Cashel Man, now being researched at the National Museum of Ireland, is likely that of a king who met his end in a violent sacrifice.
Found in a bog in County Laois in 2011, the Cashel Man is the oldest found bog body. From the early Bronze Age, about 4,000 years ago, he is believed to be the oldest bog body anywhere in the world. He was found between territories and within sight of a hill where he may have been crowned king.
Cashel Man suffered violent injuries to his back and a sword or axe wound on his arm, but this level of violence is not unusual for bog bodies. Keeper of Irish Antiquities, Eamonn Kelly, who has worked on all the major bog body finds, theorizes that the bog bodies died violent deaths as a form of sacrifice.
He explained to the BBC, “When an Irish king is inaugurated, he is inaugurated in a wedding to the goddess of the land. It is his role to ensure through his marriage to the goddess that the cattle will be protected from plague and the people will be protected from disease.”
He continues, “If these calamities should occur, the king will be held personally responsible. He will be replaced, he will pay the price, he will be sacrificed.”
It is uncertain whether Cashel Man was one of these unfortunate kings. A milling machine destroyed his chest when he was found and researchers cannot examine his nipples.
In two other bog bodies, Kelly says the nipples were deliberately destroyed because kings with mutilated bodies could not serve.
He elaborates, “We’re looking at the bodies of kings who have been decommissioned, who have been sacrificed. As part of that decommissioning, their nipples are mutilated.”
“In the Irish tradition they could no longer serve as king if their bodies were mutilated in this way. This is a decommissioning of the king in this life and the next.”
Due to the damage done by the milling machine, the exact cause of death is unknown. Typically the head, neck and chest are targeted in a sacrifice.
Cashel Man will likely go on display with similar bog bodies at the National Museum in Dublin. Kelly said, “I see these bodies as ambassadors who have come down to us from a former time with a story to tell. I think if we can tell that story in some small measure we can give a little added meaning to those lives that were cut short.”