On tour: bog man murdered 1,800 years ago

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JUDGING BY the terrified look on his face, the German horseman who has come to be known as "Red Franz" harboured few hopes of 21st-century fame in the moments before he was murdered and deposited in a bog 1,800 years ago. But after a world tour which has already introduced him to half a million people, he arrived in Manchester yesterday in an exhibition which sheds light on the fate which befell him and many others.

Red Franz - who takes his name from the colour his hair turned to after thousands of years in bog water - was joined by other "Bog People", including the Dutch "Girl from Yde" and a pair whose dying embrace earned them the name "the married couple".

Undiscovered until peat-cutters chanced upon them 100 or so years ago, each has been well preserved by the acidity and absence of oxygen afforded by the bogs of northern Europe.

The first international exhibition to bring them together - The Mysterious Bog People - reveals that they shared much more than a resting place. Recent scientific analysis of their bodies suggests that all were subjected to violent deaths and may have been consigned to the bog as sacrifices or as punishment killings. Red Franz, whose long hair was blond when he perished, was stabbed through the shoulder and had his throat cut at the age of 25 - somewhere between AD200 and AD400.

Manchester is used to such artefacts, since the discovery at nearby Wilmslow of Britain's most famous bog body, "Lindow Man", 21 years ago. He was a young adult who had fallen victim to a brutal act of violence in the first century AD. For years, many thought the body (still known locally as "Lindow Pete") was a recent murder victim. This seemed to be a common assumption when a bog person surfaced. The exhibition reveals how many bodies were so well preserved that peat-cutters took them to local police, who could not identify them and arranged for them to be reburied. Red Franz was interred in a cemetery at Hanover, Germany, in 1900 before a local museum realised his value and dug him up again five months later.

The exhibition, which introduces visitors to the bog people via a virtual walk through high-banked peat-cutters' channels, draws on 400 exhibits to support the view that the bogs were carefully selected as places for spiritual sacrifices by people who associated its water with the next world.

From the Mesolithic period (10,000-50,000BC) up to Roman times, people often placed their most precious posessions in the bogs - from amber necklaces to leather-sheathed daggers, elk bones, harpoons and even an entire wooden temple.