Bog Butter

Besides bodies, butter is another artifact often discovered in the watery, misty bogs of Ireland and Scotland. Bog butter was likely originally placed in a bog for safe-keeping. The acidic, low-oxygen waters of bogs were cool places to store butter and also acts as a natural preservative. So, bogs acted as ancient refrigerators. But why go to so much trouble for butter...and how does it stay, well, butter for hundreds of years?

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Although bog butter served a practical purpose - storing the butter to keep for later, it also had a ritualistic angle as well. Many large hoards of bog butter have been discovered in places with great ritual significance to the lifestyles of the early Irish and Scottish. This theory is also supported by what has been found alongside bog butter such as weapons, jewelry, regalia pieces, wooden sculptures, tools, and even bog bodies. Researchers believed that butter, along with the other items, were offered to regional deities with the hope of securing that deity’s protection. In these instances, the butter was never meant to be recovered.

Dark Side of History posits an interesting theory of how bog butter went from ritualistic to practical, “discovered in a bog by chance by someone who passed by. This unknown person from an unknown time inspected the substance and tasted it out of curiosity, discovering that it was still edible and might have even enjoyed the taste of bog butter, deciding to make more; the technique was very simple after all. The person also realized that butter could be preserved and stashed for leaner times in the bog, and started doing just that.”

Bog butter is somewhat commonly discovered and peat bogs and is usually contained within wooden boxes, animal skins, or earthenware pots. When opened the bog butter reportedly still smells like butter and even as a buttery texture...however eating it randomly is not necessarily suggested, as it could date back as far as the Iron Age!

According to Atlas Obscura, when Andrew Zimmerin, a food historian, tried 3,000-year-old bog butter he noted it as having “a lot of funk” with “a crazy moldy finish.”

Butter was also protected because, according to the Nordic Food Lab, “Butter and other dairy products were frequently used as a form of taxation and rent.” Furthermore, “Butter is valuable: for that reason alone worth hiding, even more so in lawless times. One author gives testimony that treasures were buried inside fats, so when bog butter was discovered it was pierced from all directions to check for valuables”

There are so many examples of bog butter being found likely because of the earlier, ritualistic nature where the butter was never meant to surface again and the fact that sometimes people forgot or died before they could retrieve the bog butter they had purposefully laid in the bog.

Thank you to Friday V for the #Blogstonishing topic suggestion!

This image is not directly related to the story. It is entitled “On the Watershed Bogland near Lochan an Fhitich beneath Sgurr Chòinich. The water I am standing in will flow, slowly at first towards the North Sea via the Allt an Fhitich, Allt Ghariadh Ghualaich, Loch and River Garry, Loch and River Oich and Loch and River Ness. Lochan an Fhitich are hidden amongst the peat hags. A short fair interval on an increasingly foul day, typical of mid altitudes in a Scottish Winter.” Richard Webb / On the Watershed / CC BY-SA 2.0