Monday, August 24, 2009

3,000 Year Old Butter Found In Irish Bog by Farmer

John FitzHarris and Martin Lane, the Bord na Mona workers who found the oak barrell in Gilltown Bog, with Carol Smith and Padraig Clancy of the National Museum of Ireland

An oak barrel, full of butter, estimated to be roughly 3,000 years old has been found in Gilltown bog, between Timahoe and Staplestown. The barrel is being described by archaeology experts in the National Museum as a "really fine example".

Two Bord na Mona workers, John Fitzharris and Martin Lane, were harrowing the bog one day in late May when they noticed a distinctive white streak in the peat.

"We got down to have a look. We knelt down and felt something hard and started to dig it out with out bare hands," John explained. "We could smell it. And it was attracting crows," he added. "We couldn't believe it," said Mr. Lane.

They found an oak barrel about 3’ long, almost 1’ wide and weighing almost 35 kg. (77 lb). It was cut from the trunk of a tree, filled with butter and stored in the bog. It was found head down and had a lid. The lid has caused great excitement among scientists. Over time the barrel had split along the middle which is common for utensils filled with butter and stored in the bogs. It now also had a gash towards the bottom of it caused by the harrow. 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.

The two men put the barrel in the cab of their tractor and brought it back to their base. "We put it in a black plastic bag," Mr. Fitzharris explained.

"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. Once the barrel is dried out it will be preserved with a wax-like solution.

It is thought that the butter was put in the bog for practical reasons, rather than ritual.

"There are accounts dating back to the 1850's with people used to wash their cattle once a year in the bog and then put some butter back into the bog. It was piseogary," Mr. Clancy explained, adding that the butter was usually “stolen” by the following week! "It's open to interpretation; but, we're inclined to think that 3,000 years ago they were just storing it."

Via The Leinster Leader

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