Before refrigeration became the norm, the Irish had devised their own method of keeping their food products cool, including their bog butters, which scientists have now found were being created more than 3,750 years ago, which is 1,500 years longer than originally estimated.
As The Journal IE report, the cooling power of bogs has been determined to work so well that butter stored within them can still be safely consumed even after centuries. This is primarily due to the concentration of low oxygen levels and high-acidity that is found within them.
When the Irish bog butter finally begins to go bad, it can be seen turning yellow and waxy, giving off a smell that resembles very strong cheese. The Irish hid so much of this butter within bogs for thousands of years that even today turf cutters still frequently run across these ancient butters.
Now a new study has suggested that there is a very good reason why Irish bog butter is still being found so often, and this is because the Irish originally began storing their butter within bogs during the early Bronze Age, starting around 1,700 B.C. and continuing for 3,500 years.
As Professor Richard Evershed from the University of Bristol explained, “The widespread occurrence of these enigmatic butter deposits fits with our increasing knowledge of the central importance of dairying in prehistoric northern Europe.”
Out of the five bog butters that scientists analyzed for their latest research, four of these were found in Offaly and were recovered from Knockdrin, Drinagh, Ballindown and Esker More, with the fifth sample unearthed in Clonava in Westmeath.
The oldest sample was found to have come from Knockdrin and was determined to date back to between 1,745 and 1,635 B.C. and was discovered with a sample of bark, which was most likely used to hold and protect the butter.
Dr Jessica Smyth from the UCD School of Archaeology has noted that despite Irish bog butter being so widespread, there may not have been one solitary reason why it was continuously hidden for so many thousands of years.
“Clearly, it is unlikely there was a single reason for the deposition of bog butter over four millennia. In certain periods they may have been votive deposits, while at other points in time it may have been more about storage and even protection of valuable resources.”
The new study, which has determined that the creation of Irish bog butter stretches back 1,500 years longer than was previously believed, has been published in Scientific Reports.