A Germanic warrior and a 16-year-old European beauty will be touring Canada together next year.
Red Franz and Yde Girl are 2,000-year-old mummified corpses discovered in peat bogs in northern Europe. Along with four other complete bog-mummies, they will be the centrepieces of The Mysterious Bog People, a three-year travelling exhibition of significant archeological finds discovered in European bogs.
The exhibition is a collaboration between the Canadian Museum of Civilization in Hull, the Glenbow Museum in Calgary, Hanover's Niedersachsisches Landesmuseum, home to Red Franz, and the Dutch Drents Museum in Assen, where Yde Girl is usually on display.
"The opportunity to show such a rich collection of original material to Canadian visitors -- and to help them understand the importance of the discoveries in the wetlands of Europe -- was one we could not miss," said Sylvie Morel, director-general of exhibitions at the Canadian Museum of Civilization, at a press conference yesterday. "This collaborative effort will enable three countries to share a wealth of information."
A bog is a pond or lake that has become acidic and is gradually overgrown with peat moss. The moss forms a mat on the water in which other plants find a foothold, and soil gradually builds up on the body of the water. When peat moss dies, it releases a substance called sphagnan, softening and preserving skeletons and artifacts, sometimes making naturally mummified corpses look like pulled toffee.
In prehistoric times, as northwestern Europe became increasingly wet, vast areas were covered by bogs. People lived on the high, dry land between the bogs. Dangerous and often foggy places where one could easily get lost and drown, the bogs were shrouded in mystery.
Many scientists think the ancient Europeans believed the bogs were inhabited by gods and spirits, who had control over life and the fate of humans. It was likely believed good relations with the bog gods could be maintained through offerings, which were deposited at the threshold of their dwelling place. Valuable items such as grain, antlers, pottery, wheels, weapons, jewellery and even people were given to the bogs, turning them into immense reservoirs of gifts.
In early modern times, as people began to exploit the bogs, cutting huge quantities of turf for fuel, the prehistoric sacrifices were gradually uncovered, exposing a glimpse of the life of our ancestors.
The exhibition will tell the story of people living near the bogs of northwestern Europe from the Mesolithic Age -- which began around 10,000 years ago -- to the end of the 16th century, shedding light on their everyday lives, ideas and beliefs.
The exhibition will feature 440 artifacts, including pottery, bronze swords, leather shoes, textiles, gold coins, jewellery, musical instruments and agricultural tools, on loan from the European museums.
A key find is the Pesse wooden dugout canoe, discovered in 1955 and carbon dated to between 8040 and 7510 BC, making it the oldest known boat in the world. The Scotch-pine boat was made using flint axes. A replica of the original canoe has recently been hand-chiselled using prehistoric techniques and then floated to study how it was manoeuvred on the water and how it was used for fishing and hunting.
But it is the mummified corpses who will attract the visitors. Yde Girl was discovered in 1897 by two Dutch villagers cutting peat for fuel in a small bog in the northern Netherlands. Scientists believe she was strangled, stabbed and left in the bog over 2,000 years ago. She was found with a tightly knotted red strip of fabric around her neck. Her back is badly twisted, which may have forced her to walk with a limp, possibly making her a sacrificial target.
One of the most famous bog-mummies, Red Franz is a man with bright red hair and beard, and was probably a Germanic warrior in the cavalry, killed around 300 AD.
Modern scientific techniques that reveal the age, sex, physical health and even the contents of the individual's last meal from human remains will be explained at the Canadian museums through images, text and interactive displays.
"A partnership of this amplitude gives us the opportunity to work with and learn from archaeological and museum experts in Europe," said Heinz Reese of the Glenbow Museum. "Our objective has been to produce a large-scale travelling exhibition, designed to give visitors in both Europe and Canada a full experience of the bog offerings and the lifestyles of the ancient people of northwest Europe."
The Mysterious Bog People will show at the Museum of Civilization from Dec. 6, 2002, and will move to Calgary's Glenbow Museum October 18, 2003. Other North American venues are being planned. For a preview of the exhibition, visit .