Published: December 2005
Did You Know?
In Did You Know? the National Geographic magazine team shares extra information we gathered to expand your knowledge of our featured subjects.

Because of their chemistry, peat bogs can act like time capsules, preserving items deposited in them for thousands of years. Some amazing finds have been discovered by people digging for peat, dense plant matter that can be burned to provide heat. From ancient tools and weapons to clothing and jewelry, bogs around the world have kept their secrets well. Human bodies, likely deposited as part of early rituals, have been unearthed, with elaborate hairstyles, facial stubble, and papillary lines on hands and feet intact.

Poor drainage and the layers of partially decayed plants that make up a bog's spongy terrain are the secret to these windows on the past. The loose ground holds significant amounts of still water, and objects below the surface are protected from the damaging effects of scavengers and interaction with oxygen. The acids in the water also act as a tanning agent, which can turn human skin a dark leathery color and prevent it from rotting.

In addition to providing a glimpse into human life long ago, peatlands have also proved useful at deciphering the botanical history of the planet. Well preserved seeds and spores provide a record that can be analyzed to gain an understanding of the biological diversity of the distant past.

—Brad Scriber