Science - April 23, 2019

The Yde Girl was not far from home

Roelof Kleis

It is possible that the Yde girl, the Netherlands’ most famous bog body, lived no more than fifteen minutes’ walk from the spot where she was ritually strangled. Wageningen research has revealed this.

© Drents Museum, Assen

The 16-year-old girl was found by farm workers in 1897. She was lying in a peat bog and had a cord around her neck. Her reddish blonde hair had been shaved off on one side of her head. But until recently we knew nothing about who she was, where she came from and the society she lived in. Some of this information has now been supplied by a multidisciplinary team of scientists led by WUR archaeologist and peat bog expert Roy van Beek.

Through soil and pollen analysis, and other archaeological methods the researchers reconstructed the girl’s world in minute detail and their findings have been published in The Holocene. ‘You could say it’s a snapshot of life two thousand years ago,’ says Van Beek.

She came from an egalitarian society with few status differences

The reconstruction has revealed that the area around present-day Yde was remarkably densely populated. Van Beek: ‘It was a relatively open landscape with hamlets, fields and heathland. A mosaic of ridges, low-lying peat bogs, grassland and dales. People lived in the higher areas to keep dry.’ One of these raised areas lies about a kilometre from where the girl was found. ‘This could be the place she came from. It’s only a quarter of an hour walk from the bog where she was found. On the way she would have had to cross a small stream.’

meisje van Yde.origineel.jpg

Van Beek thinks that she was strangled at this spot and sacrificed to a higher being. An alternative explanation is that she was executed. Whatever the circumstances of her death, Van Beek believes that not many people were present. ‘She would have been from an egalitarian society with few status differences. I imagine that the decision to kill her was taken at a low level, say by a couple of villages. It was undoubtedly a significant event, but it would not have involved large numbers of people.’

The girl’s body must have entered the bog almost immediately after her death, around the beginning of the Common Era. Her body can now be seen in the Drents Museum in Assen.

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