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 3000-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.)
This isn’t the first time a butter barrel has been found, but they’re not usually so complete and nowhere near so large.
The barrel is about three feet long and almost a foot wide, and weighs almost 35kgs, (77lbs).
The butter has changed to white and is now adipocere, which is essentially animal fat, the same sort of substance that is found on well-preserved bodies of people or animals found in the bog. [...]
“It’s rare to find a barrel as intact as that,” Mr. Clancy explained, “especially with the lid intact, and attached. It’s a really fine example.”
He estimates that the barrel is approximately 3,000 years old, from the Iron Age.
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.