2,000-year old butter found in ancient Irish bog might still be edible

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A lump of butter that smells like strong cheese must be very old. Well in this case that lump of butter in question is around 2,000-years old, and it was found in an Irish peat bog (known as Emlagh bog) near the town of Drakerath, some 50 miles north of the capital Dublin. Discovered at a depth of 12 ft below ground level, the chunk of the ‘spread’ weighs a good 22 lbs. Interestingly enough, given the natural factors associated with a peat bog – like low temperature and low oxygen, the butter was found to be in a well preserved condition. However the researchers (from the National Museum of Ireland) have hypothesized that the chunk was buried deep not to preserve it, but rather interred as an offering to the gods.

Now from the historical perspective, the Emlagh bog was located at the crossroads of three ancient Irish kingdoms. So basically the area pertained to a no man’s land, thus alluding to the possibility that the butter was interred as a peace offering. Moreover the chunk of the waxy material was not buried in a packed state, which further hints at how it was entombed as a gift to the gods.

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Intriguingly enough, while the discovery of a 2,000-year old butter lump may sound rare, archaeologists have been previously able to find similar specimens from Irish bogs, with some chunks even being placed inside wooden boxes. As for the preservation side of affairs, it is the Sphagnum moss that rather complements the cold, low-oxygen ambiance inside a bog. This in turn encapsulates the buried object in an almost acidic (with low-temperature) condition that mitigates the entry of external bacteria – thus replicating the scope of a natural ersatz refrigerator.

Finally, we arrive at the ‘2,000-year old’ question – is this extant Irish butter lump still edible? Well the answer in short is – yes, at least in the theoretical sense. But that doesn’t mean that it should be readily chopped off and consumed to sate one’s culinary curiosity. But in case you are still craving for some archaic spread, celebrity chef Kevin Thornton had already reproduced his version of a 4,000-year old bog butter that is apparently based on the originally ancient flavor.

Via: BBC / Featured Image Credit: Sonja Smith/ Copper Tree

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