2,000-year-old Bellaghy bog body discovered during excavations in Derry

Bellaghy bog body: Iron Age remains of teenage boy found in Co. Derry.
Ancient remains of teenage boy found in Bellaghy, Co. Derry. This shows the full body at postmortem (pic: © PSNI).

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In Co. Derry, near the village of Bellaghy, the discovery of an ancient bog body represents the well-preserved remains of a teenage boy from the Iron Age, who died c.500 BC.

The Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) has released a statement confirming the recovery of 2,000-year-old human remains in Co. Derry. The discovery of the bog body occurred near the village of Bellaghy, on bogland owned by the Department of Agriculture.

The Archaeological Unit within the PSNI’s specialized Body Recovery Team carried out an excavation on the bog after being alerted to the presence of human bones on the surface of peatland close to Bellaghy in October 2023. The remains had been spotted by workers involved in commercial peat extraction in the area.

This excavation was part of the ongoing investigations focused on locating the bodies of the “Disappeared” – casualties of the Troubles in Northern Ireland. Detective Inspector Nikki Deehan said:

“On initial examination, we couldn’t be sure if the remains were ancient or the result of a more recent death. Therefore, we proceeded to excavate the body with full forensic considerations in a sensitive and professional manner.”

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The excavations initially revealed a tibia and fibula, along with a humerus, ulna and radius bone, relating to the lower left leg and right arm. Additional bones from the same individual were discovered during further investigations in the area, and about 5m to the south, the bones of the lower left arm and a left femur were located. Further investigations revealed additional finger bones and the breastbone.

The site underwent two phases of high-resolution ground-penetrating radar surveys, which indicated no signs of further human remains.

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A postmortem examination was performed on the bog body by a certified forensic anthropologist, revealing the high level of preservation. This individual is partially skeletonized, but large parts of the flesh remain. Some skin, fingernails, toenails and possibly a kidney have also survived.

Kidney of teenage bog boy found in Bellaghy, Co. Derry.
Kidney of teenage bog boy found in Bellaghy, Co. Derry (pic: © PSNI).

The analysis indicated that the individual was likely a male, aged between 13 and 17 years at the time of death.

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With radiocarbon dates centred around 500 BC, the remains are estimated to be approximately 2,000 to 2,500 years old. This indicates a date in the Iron Age. The remains were found at a depth of about 1m below the current surface level, which aligns with the radiocarbon estimates.

The remains were found surrounded by a cluster of fossilized tree remains, indicating the possibility that the individual might have died or been buried within a copse of trees, or alternatively, the body may have washed in.

The teenager’s exact cause of death remains uncertain.

Bellaghy bog body will be conveyed to the National Museums NI for further examination and preservation.

Read the full statement by the PSNI here.

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