In 1951 peat cutters unearthed the bog body of an adult female dating from the Roman period (AD 78-233) in the ‘Damsel’s Bog’ northwest of the villages of Aalden and Zweeloo (province of Drenthe, the Netherlands, fig. 1).
The degree of preservation of the body has now been assessed using atomic force microscopy imaging (AFM) and histology. AFM images of the skin showed evidence of moderate decomposition of collagen fibrils. Although histology revealed moderate decalcification of the bones, the abdominal organs were found to be very well preserved.
Apart from shrinkage and deformation caused by the long immersion in the bog, the Zweeloo Woman’s skeleton shows possible signs of a pathological disorder affecting both the forearms and the lower legs.
The long bones were measured, the woman’s stature was assessed and a CT scan was carried out to assess the degree of micromelia and the possibility of dwarfism.
Although shrinkage had caused overall shortening and deformation of single bones (i.e. the pelvis, calcanei and the femora) altering the stature, the radiological findings show probable evidence of Léri-Weill dyschondrosteosis (DCS). DCS is a dominantly inherited dysplasia characterised by short stature with mesomelic shortening of middle segments of the forearms and lower legs. Only three cases of probable or indicative DCS have so far been diagnosed from pre-modern societies. Here we propose evidence of a probable case of DCS syndrome in a bog body dating from the Roman period.
It has often been suggested that a substantial number of the individuals that have been found in peat were killed before being deposited in the bog. The Zweeloo Woman’s bones show at least 21 cut marks made by a short blade instrument. There is, however, no evidence of any trauma, except possibly in the posterior aspect of the left shoulder, on the outer skin surface. Whether Zweeloo Woman was intentionally killed or died a natural death still remains unclear.