I can’t believe it’s 2500-year-old butter

The miracle preservative that is the Irish peat bog has struck again, this time surrendering a 3000-year-old oak barrel filled with 2500-year-old butter. It was found by workers at a peat company who were “harrowing” the bog.

(I think getting to harrow anything is a cool job description. The only other context I ever hear it in is in the story of the Harrowing of Hell.)

The butter was found in an oak barrel three feet high and one foot wide with an intact lid. It weighs 77 pounds. The butter-packed barrel is similar in type to other (smaller) examples that range in date from 500 B.C. to 500 A.D. This isn’t the first time a butter barrel has been found, but they’re not usually so complete and nowhere near so large.

Split along the middle due to the expansion of butter over time, the barrel features tool marks from a knife, chisel, adze or axe.

Inside, the butter has turned white and is now adipocere, a kind of wax.

“It’s rare to find such a well preserved butter barrel, with the lid intact and attached. It is an invaluable addition to the national collection,” Padraig Clancy, assistant keeper at the National Museum of Ireland, told Discovery News.

According to Clancy, it is likely that the butter was put in the bog for practical reasons, rather than ritual. Probably, it was the stored harvest of an Iron Age community, who used the bog as a primitive kind of fridge.

It might have been intentionally placed in the bog to preserve it. Such a huge amount would likely have been the product of multiple people, perhaps even the entire community.

The bog butter is drying out right now. Once it’s dry, it will be coated in a wax preservative and kept at the National Museum of Ireland.

Incidentally, people have tasted ancient bog butter and lived to tell the tale. :ohnoes:

15 thoughts on “I can’t believe it’s 2500-year-old butter

  1. Hi all,

    Being in the advertising business, that headline cracks me up.

    I’m writing your blog with news of what I hope you’ll find to be an interesting conference – The Atlantic Conference 2009.

    It concerns the evidence of trans-Atlantic contact well before Columbus. As no true believer myself, I’m demanding the highest standards from those who will present. I ran the first Atlantic Conference in Halifax in 2008 and the research presented there was of a very high caliber.

    The website is – http://www.AtlanticConference.org
    There you can read about the speakers, see the technology that will drive the conference at work, and get a sense of the personality of some of the speakers.

    The amount of evidence in all areas is simply overwhelming.

    I hope your groups finds it interesting.

    Kind Regards,

    Steve St. Clair

  2. When you consider that the Irish consider boiled Bacon a relative delicacy it’s not a far stretch from tasting adipocere butter. I’d probably taste it just to be able to say I ate 3000 year old butter. A Guiness would make it go down.

    1. Good God. I’m not a huge fan of bacon but even I appreciate its crispiness. Boiling it is just unspeakable. The horror… The horror…

      Yeah, I think I’d take a chunk of bog butter with a Guiness chaser over boiled bacon.

    1. I hadn’t really thought about it, but it makes sense there would be butter produced fairly quickly after cattle domestication, and that would have been 5,000 years or so before this chunk found its way into the bog.

      1. Hmm. I am now wondering if cheese, butter and yogurt were all discovered accidentally, during experiments in preservation.

        1. That’s plausible. I often wonder how foods of all kinds were discovered. Even fresh foods that don’t require chemical experimentation must have a ton of unfortunate trial and error behind them. Mushrooms, for example.

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