Archive for August 19th, 2009

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

Wednesday, August 19th, 2009

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:

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