Online Dictionary of Dutch Women

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YDE, the girl of (born after c. 54 BC – died before c. 128 AD), most famous peat-bog body found in the Netherlands.

On 12 May 1897, turf cutters working near the village of Yde in the province of Drenthe found a black head with ginger hair. The workers stashed it under some cut peat, but three days later their macabre find made the papers. On 21 May the mayor of nearby Vries alerted the Provincial Museum in Assen. In his letter he described the human remains as follows: ‘the skin is bluish, the head nearly intact, only the right cheek is damaged ... the mouth is open, revealing the teeth. Long ginger hair on the left side of the skull; the right side of the head seems to have been shaved clean ... Neck, shoulders, upper body (only skin and bones of course) still fit together well; the arms are also partially present. ...Furthermore ... a foot, with the toenails still in place; a hand, all fingers complete, the thumbnail still present. Also fished up were a hip bone, knee bone and other bones ... The foot and hand are relatively small and the bones are not big, so that I believe it to be a woman. Next to the remains were found a ... piece of patched fabric ... [and a] cloth or ribbon ... [which] was wrapped around the neck a couple of times …’. (quotation in Van der Sanden, 1994, 30).

A couple of days later, when the mayor and J.G.C. Joosting, a museum board member, went to examine the site, it appeared that they had waited too long: the peat-bog body had been badly damaged by the locals. The hair had been torn from the skull, all the teeth but one had been pulled out, and the piece of knee described in the letter had disappeared. They put what remained in a crate, leaving behind the trunk of an oak that was found next to the girl. In Assen, Joosting laid the body on the floor to dry and wrote to Dr W. Pleyte, an expert in Dutch archaeology at the Rijksmuseum van Oudheden (National Museum of Antiquities) in Leiden. The museum requested permission to transfer the body to Leiden, but the entire board of the Drents Museum wanted to keep the find for its own collection – everyone, that is, except the chairman, who was convinced that the remains were those of an ape.

Joosting initially assumed that the body was approximately six centuries old, but after consulting Professor Johanna Mestorf, director of the Schleswig-Holsteinisches Museum vaterländischer Altertümer (Schleswig-Holstein Museum of National Antiquities) in Kiel (Germany), he revised his estimate. Professor Mestorf had compared 21 peat-bog bodies for an article she had written, and had concluded that they lived between 200 and 400 AD. Joosting saw sufficient similarity to adopt the same dating for ‘his’ body.

In 1955 the remains were subjected to various dating methods. Examination of the peat on the sole of the girl’s foot revealed the presence of pollen from trees and plants that grew in the region between 200 and 500 AD. Later on, C14 dating narrowed the time frame to the period between BC 54 and 128 AD: the end of the Iron Age and the beginning of the Roman era.

During excavation, much of the body was lost, damaged or simply not recovered, so that the remains are far from complete. Moreover, the conservative properties of the peaty soil did not have a uniform effect. Some of the skin of the upper body is still present, whereas all that is left of the lower body is bones. Breasts – still recognisable on the upper body – and the shape of the pelvis show the body to be that of a woman. Examination of the bones and the skull has revealed that this female was around sixteen years old when she died.

The excavation also yielded two pieces of fabric. One was a narrow ribbon, which was wrapped around her neck several times. The ribbon is now 125 centimetres long and 4 centimetres wide, but its original length must have been between 215 and 220 centimetres. When the ribbon came into Joosting’s possession, it had a slip-knot, indicating that it had been used to strangle the girl. The other piece of fabric must have come from a woollen coat, woven of badly spun wool and displaying a number of flaws and sloppy darning.

The hair on the skull was 21 centimetres long. Its ginger hue was caused by the peat; its original colour was probably blond. The vertebra display a lateral curvature, the two halves of the pelvis are not symmetrical, and the big toe of the right foot is deformed. This means that the girl would have been unable to walk straight, because her right foot turned inwards somewhat. She must have been about 1.40 metres tall. In 1993 Richard Neave of the University of Manchester made a reconstruction of the girl’s face, to which Julie Wright, a special-effects expert in London, added eyes and hair. This head is on display in the Drents Museum.

Sixty-five peat-bog bodies have been discovered in the Netherlands, most of them men –women and children are rare. They often died by strangulation. The peat bogs in which the bodies were found probably had some kind of spiritual meaning to the people living at that time. That the Yde girl was the victim of a human sacrifice is apparent from the slip-knotted ribbon around her neck, and the stab wound inflicted below it for good measure. The oak tree trunk found next to her body could have played a part in the sacrificial ritual; likewise the shaving of one side of her head might have had ritual significance. It is also possible that the girl was punished for a crime or expelled from the community because of her crippled foot and afterward sacrified to the gods.

Archeologisch materiaal

The body of the girl of Yde is preserved in the Drents Museum, Assen.


  • W.A.B. van der Sanden ed., Mens en moeras. Veenlijken in Nederland (Assen 1990).
  • W.A.B. van der Sanden, Het meisje van Yde (Assen 1994).
  • Wim Braakman, 'Het meisje van Yde', Westerheem 51(2002) 194-203.
  • [International website on all aspects of life in peat land, in use since 2002] (2005).


Reconstruction of the girl’s head. From: Van der Sanden, Het meisje van Yde.

Author: Dimphéna Groffen

last updated: 13/01/2014