Iron Age butter dish, butter found in loch

The Scottish Crannog Centre is a living history museum with a reconstructed crannog and demonstrations of Iron Age woodworking, spinning, weaving, music, cooking and other activities of daily life on Loch Tay in Perthshire, central Scotland. A wealth of archaeological material has been recovered from the loch bed over the years, rich remains of the Iron Age people who lived in the lake’s numerous crannogs (wooden roundhouse on stilts) 2,500 years ago. The crannogs had a limited lifespan and when their stilts could no longer hold them up, they and all their contents collapsed into the water. The anaerobic conditions of the lake preserved organic remains in remarkable condition.

One of the objects retrieved is a wooden butter dish complete with remnants of butter. Scottish Crannog Centre archaeologist Rich Hiden:

“When they started excavating, they pulled out this square wooden dish, well around three quarters of a square wooden dish, which had these really nice chisel marks on the sides as well as this grey stuff.”

Liped [sic] analysis on this matter found that it was dairy material, with experts believing it likely originated from a cow.

Holes in the bottom of the wooden dish further suggest that it was used for the buttering process.

Cream would have been churned until thickened until it splits to form the buttermilk, with a woven cloth – possibly made from nettle fibres – placed in the dish with the clumps of cream then further pushed through to separate the last of the liquid.

The SCC was scheduled to open this year on March 29th, but was thwarted by a certain pathogen that shall remain nameless. With lockdown restrictions now easing in Scotland, the Scottish Crannog Centre reopens to visitors on August 1st. In the meantime, the museum’s YouTube channel has produced a weekly series of videos illustrating the crannog’s history in 10 objects. They’re on number eight now, a beautiful swan neck pin. The butter dish was the fifth in the series and while the video is all too brief, you get to see what the dish would have looked like intact and how it was used.

4 thoughts on “Iron Age butter dish, butter found in loch

  1. In the Neolithic and the Bronze Age, stilt-house settlements were common in the Alpine regions of Europe. A series of prehistoric pile dwelling settlements in and around the Alps were built from about 5000 to 500 BC on the edges of lakes, rivers or wetlands.

    …which raises the question, what Scottish housing trends might have been from 5000 to 500 BC. Of course, I know of the astonishing Neolithic sites in Orkney.

    In 2011, however, 111 prehistoric pile dwelling sites located variously in Switzerland (56), Italy (19), Germany (18), France (11), Austria (5), and Slovenia (2) were added to the UNESCO World Heritage Site list.

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