Saturday, June 11, 2016

2,000-year-old lump of bog butter unearthed by turf cutters

A prehistoric 10kg lump of bog butter thought to have been a gift to the gods has been found by turf cutters in Ireland. The creamy white dairy product, which smells like a strong cheese and is believed to be about 2,000 years old, was unearthed by Jack Conway, from Maghera, Co Cavan, while he worked on Emlagh bog in Co Meath last week.

The find, while not unusual, has been given to the National Museum, where it will be preserved. Andy Halpin, assistant keeper in the museum’s Irish Antiquities Division, said the discovery was significant because it was found in the Drakerath area where 11 townlands and the boundaries of three ancient baronies met. “These bogs in those times were inaccessible, mysterious places,” he said.

“It is at the juncture of three separate kingdoms, and politically it was like a no-man’s-land - that is where it all hangs together.” Bog butter was often buried to preserve it to be dug up at a later date. Other research has shed light on it being buried as an offering to the gods or spirits in the hope of renewed prosperity. Mr Halpin said the Emlagh discovery, 12ft below the surface, may never have been intended to be unearthed as there was no evidence of a cover on it.

Such finds are common in Ireland and Scotland and the product, which appears as a waxy substance, was often placed inside a wooden casket or animal hide before being buried. Turf cutter Mr Conway reported the find to Cavan County Museum before it was handed over to the National Museum, where it will be carbon dated. Top chef Kevin Thornton has revealed he tasted bog butter, but archaeological experts are reluctant, describing the material as crumbly and with a distinctive smell like strong cheese. “Theoretically the stuff is still edible - but we wouldn’t say it’s advisable,” Mr Halpin said.

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