The "van der Peats": Joan and Darby
or John and Darby?

Were the Weerdinge bog mummies a homosexual couple? Recent DNA evidence validates that they were both men and not related maternally.

Found in the Bourtangermoor peat bogs of the Netherlands in 1904 by peatcutter Hilbrand Gringhuis, the two naturally mummified bodies were long thought to be those of a man and woman. Because the bodies had been arranged in the peat bog 2,000 years ago (they roughly date from 160 BCE to 220 CE) so that the smaller person (Body 2) lay in the right arm of the larger person (Body 1) with Body 1's left hand clasping the left arm of Body 2, they were immediately romanticized by the public as "the Weerdinge couple", and even given names: Joan and Darby van der Peat.


The severely corroded, mummified bodies of the Weerdingen men
[click for larger image]

Sex identification of the bodies has been difficult because of their poor state. Their heads were mostly missing (although the Body 1's hair is partially intact as seen above, right). The penis of Body 1 is still intact as well. Unfortunately, the pelvic area of Body 2 was poorly preserved and because of the small stature and intimacy of the embrace, Body 2 was initially assumed to be female. However, in 1990, the interpretation of the 2,000 year old bodies radically changed. Scientists finally noticed that the smaller of the two bodies had beard stubble on what was left of the chin. Scientists tentatively began circulating the information that the "Joan van der Peat" might actually be "John". The Dutch gay press immediately began publishing stories of the Netherlands' "first gay couple" who had been "heartlessly murdered by primitive tribes for their alternative lifestyle". While the two may have been involved in a loving, sexual relationship, the careful arrangement of their bodies probably indicates that they were not "heartlessly murdered".

Another intriguing thing about Body 1 is that his stomach was sliced open at the time of his death; his now leathery entrails are still piled on top of his abdominal cavity, as shown in the photo below.

The two most probable interpretations are that: (1) if he had been sacrificed, he may have been disemboweled so that the presiding priest(ess?) could read his entrails as a form of divination; or (2) he was disemboweled in battle and then buried with his "partner" (also killed in battle or sacrificed to accompany the slain hero?)

DNA tests were done on the two bodies by Ron Beckett, an expert in endoscopy, and Jerry Conlogue, an expert in paleo-imaging or x-rays; the two are lecturers at Quinnipiac University in Hamden, Connecticut, and directors of the Bio-Anthropology Research Institute. They travel the world with portable equipment, as part of National Geographic's Mummy Roadshow. They tested the bodies but the DNA results were inconclusive and a documentary on their exploration of the Weerdinge mummy remains was shown last year on cable television.

Dr. Miranda Aldhouse-Green, a so-called "expert" in bog mummies at the University of Wales-Newport, recently appeared on a cable television documentary called Bog Bodies. She generally accepted that the other bog bodies of Northern Europe were people (she tentatively called them "shamans" or priests/priestesses) who had been ritually sacrificed and then carefully placed in the bogs because they were "different" and "special", having been "touched by the gods" or "blessed by the gods", as she put it. However, when it came to discussing the Weerdinge men, she let loose a vitriolic attack on them, claiming that apparently they had been "executed" because ancient Germanic warriors would have found homosexual behavior "very shocking" and therefore had been "severely punished". Quite to the contrary, there no evidence whatsoever that ancient Germans viewed homosexuality as shocking and worthy of execution. In fact, there are several Roman and Greek authors who reported about the "barbarians" to their north, and who were scandalized by how prevalent homosexuality was amongst the warriors of ancient Germania and Gaul (now France) during the pre-Christian era. Sextus Empiricus wrote that the Germanoi practiced "male-mixing" (arrenomixia) but was shocked that "it is not shameful and is customary". (See full classical rerences below for both Germanic and Celto-Gallic ancient warrior homosexuality.)

Homosexuals would in fact have been perfect candidates for honorable sacrifice in the bogs. As liminal ("on the threshold" between two spaces) beings themselves (who exhibit or even personify both culturally "masculine" and "feminine" traits) they would have been right at home in the bogs and marshes, which are sacred, liminal spaces: not-land, not-water but something in between - a path to the "other" world. [For more on the topic of the homosexuality of bog mummies, see my article on the Lindow Man.] Below I include citations from the authors to prove that homosexuality seems to have been prevalent amongst the warrior class in northern Europe 1500 to 2000 years ago. It's quite disheartening when those who claim to be experts in a field turn out to be so ignorant of certain important aspects in that same field...and then go public with their reactionary ignorance.

Heather Pringle, author of The Mummy Congress, is also not convinced that this was an execution. She believes that the embrace indicates that they were lovingly arranged by local villagers at the time, rather than mercilessly flung into the bog waters. Still she avoids a homosexual interpretation. "They could easily be brothers or comrades in arms," writes Pringle, "And there was little to indicate that they had been shunned as outcasts - quite the contrary; in death they had been gently arranged side by side so that they could touch one another for eternity." Pringle does not mention the possibility that the two could have been brothers, comrades in arms, AND lovers, or some combinatin thereof.

However, the latest evidence is beginning to show that the two men were not brothers, were not closely related. On January 28, 2004, I received an email from Dr. Carney Matheson, director of the Paleo-DNA Laboratory in Canada. He led a team in 2002 which had done more genetic testing of the two bodies. Four sets were run on Body 1 and all four came out conclusively male. Two were run on Body 2 but while one test made a male identification, the second remained questionable. DNA experts at the Hebrew University in Israel are currently extracting DNA from tissue samples, trying to obtain more information about these two bog mummies. Dr. Matheson informed me that Hebrew University has concluded that both are indeed male. And furthermore, mitochondrial DNA (which is inherited only through one's mother) has shown that while they are of "the same ethnic group", the two men are NOT related maternally. Unfortunately, Y chromosonal testing (to determine paternal relationships) is much more difficult to do, especially on such ancient tissue that has lain in swampy goo for some 2000 years. Yet efforts are currently underway to try to extract this information to find out if the men might be paternally related (i.e. half-brothers).

Hopefully further testing will let us know if these two men were half-brothers or not. In the meantime, the Weerdinge men are off on a new adventure. Normally housed at the Drents Museum in the Netherlands, for the first time in a century they are currently on the move, as part of a traveling museum exhibit called "The Mysterious Bog People", now in Canada. While it has been announced that they will be visiting the United States this year (2004), I have been unable to find out exactly where or when. I'd love to go pay my John van Bog and Darby van der Peat!


[all translations are mine unless noted otherwise]

On the Germans -

In Tacitus' Germania (13.2), there is a lengthy passage about the Germanic warrior-chieftains and their retinues of young warriors-in-training. Tacitus calls these retinues of handsome youths "in times of peace, beauty, and in times of war, a defense"; he recorded that the Germans found nothing shameful in the intensity of the young men vying for the attention and affection of their chieftains - yet the passage oozes with a homosociality that certainly borders on the homoerotic. Yes, Tacitus described a "punishment" for those who practice "bodily infamy" (infame corpores), but the practice he described (carefully placing the bodies in bogs under wicker stakes) is that of a cultic sacrificial burial, not a dreadful, shameful execution. Obviously Tacitus filtered what the Germans were doing through his own cultural lens as a Roman and interpreted the sacrifice of homosexual priests/shamans as a punishment. Tacitus later in the Germania also described the priests of the Swabian sub-tribe, the Naharanvali, who "dress as women" to perform their priestly duties.

More directly to the point, on the Germanic warrior tribe the Taifali, Christian writer Ammianus Marcelinus scathingly wrote (31.9.5): "I have learned that this tribe of the Taifali is so immersed in the shameful acts of an obscene life that among them young men in the age of puberty copulate in a nefarious bond with men, consuming them in their polluted practices". He added that once the youth had killed a wild boar or a bear, he had passed his initiation, apparently then becoming an adult male and able to repeat this initiatory, pederastic cycle.

Of the Germanic Hari or Heruli (who are called by various classical writers the "tallest", "fiercest", "strongest" foot warriors in all of Germania), Prokopios, Bishop of Caesaria [De Bello Gothico VI.xiv.36] says: "And they [Heruli] have intercourse contrary to the ends of divine law, even with men...."

Sextus Empiricus, writing in Greek from Rome, indicated that, "Among us [Romans], at least, 'male-mixing' (arrenomixias, similar to Paul's arsenokoitai, 'male-fuckers') is shameful - and has certainly been established as outlawed (paranomos) but among the Germanoi it is said that it is not shameful and is customary." (Sextus Empiricus, Outlines of Pyrrhonism, III.199. Note that arrenomixias here, as far as I know, is the only reference in ancient Greek and Roman literature to a word similar to our modern concept of "homosexuality".)

Ptolemy, using astrology to explain human diversity, wrote that due to the vespertine aspect of Jupiter and Mars, the men of the European "quarter" (and he specifies Germania, Gaul, Britain, Spain, and northern Italy) "are without passion for women and look down upon the pleasures of love, but are better satisfied with and more desirous of association with men" (not my translation, see Ptolemy, Tetrabiblos, II.3.)

Also, several ancient authors (Jordanes, Prokopios, Ablavius, etc.) indicate that the ur-home of the Heruli was the Maeotian Swamps (where the Don flows into the Sea of Azov), which also happens to be the mythical homeland of the transgendered Amazonian warrior-women. The Heruli, as liminal, cultic warriors, are elsewhere often associated with fens, bogs, and marsh-lands. One of the several known runic inscriptions of circa 500 CE left by a Heruli says he was called "Muha", which means marsh, swamp - our modern English cognate is "muck". Also, a sword with a runic inscription indicating that it belonged to one of the Hari has been found in the Nydham Mos, Denmark ship bog-burial.

Kris Kershaw, in her exhaustive 2000 monograph The One-eyed God: Odin and the (Indo-)Germanic Mannerbunde* documents the profoundly homosocial anthropology of the Hari/Heruli as cultic "wolf-warriors" of the Germanic god Wodan (later the Norse Odin) who practiced homoerotics as part of the initiation and training of young "noble" men.

* Mannerbunde means "men's societies"


On the Keltoi or Celts -

Diodorus Siculus recorded:

"They [the Celts] have good-looking women but pay no attention to them - rather they weave around other males in a strange frenzy. They are accustomed to sleeping on the ground upon hides of wild beasts and wallow together with partners on both sides for fucking. And most paradoxically, heedless of their own dignity, they give up their well-satisfied bodies to the harvest of other men, and they do not regard this as a disgrace; rather the opposite - whenever their freely-offered gift of sexual gratification is not received favorably, they regard it a dishonor." (Bibliotheke historike, V.32.7)

Athenaios quoting Poseidonios of Apameia, in his 13th book of Histories:

'The Celts,' he says, 'go around with their "male live-togethers" [literally "symbiotes"], which are called parasites, even when warring. These [symbiotes] recite their encomia/victory hymns both before assemblies of men as they are gathered together, as well as before any individual who in turn will listen to them. Their tales are created/retained by those called Bardoi [Bards]. Poets they are, as chance may have it, who recite praises in odes.'

In addition to Ptolemy (see above), Aristotle gave astrological explanations for why "the Keltoi give such honor to symbiotes", which was because the Celts were governed by "Ares united with Aphrodite" [warfare and erotic love]. In Politics II.6.6-8 [or II.9.6-8 in some editions], Aristotle feared that militaristic nations driven to wealth were falling under the domination of women, "except the Keltoi and such other [races] as openly pay honor to that intercourse with males. For it seems the earlier myth-teller, not without reason, paired together Ares with Aphrodite: for it seems that all of those [soldierly and warlike men] reveal they are capable of being possessed by the communion of males or by that of women."

The Christian apologist Eusebius quotes Bar Daisan (a Gnostic Syrian who dismissed an astrological explanation for human diversity in favor of custom and free will) as saying, "'Among the Gauls the young men give themselves [to each other] in marriage openly, not regarding this as a matter of reproach, because of the law among them. Yet it cannot possibly have been the lot of all in Gaul who thus impiously suffer outrage to have the morning-star with Mercury setting in the houses of Saturn and regions of Mars at their nativities." (not my translation - Eusesbius, Praeparatio Evangelica, IV.10.27). Another very similar but spurious manuscript attributed to Bar Daisan fleshes this out:

"But in the North, and in the country of the Gauls and their neighbours, such youths among them as are handsome the men take as wives, and they even have feasts on the occasion; and it is not considered by them as a disgrace, nor as a reproach, because of the law which prevails among them. But it is a thing impossible that all those in Gaul who are branded with this disgrace should at their Nativities have had Mercury posited with Venus in the house of Saturn, and within the limits of Mars, and in the signs of the zodiac to the west. For, concerning such men as are born under these conditions, it is written that they are branded with infamy, as being like women." (not my translation - Bar Daisan, Book of the Laws of Diverse Countries, 731)