Article

Read

Moor Butter

from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

A 15th/16th century wooden container of bog butter from near Portadown, County Fermanagh in the Ulster Museum

Moor butter from Enniskillen, County Fermanagh from the 15th/16th century in the Ulster Museum

Experimental archaeologically produced moor butter

Moor butter is the name for waxy substances found in peat bogs. The majority of the finds have their origin in milk fat, the others being slaughter fat such as lard or tallow. The most frequent finds, and the largest in mass, were made in Ireland and Scotland. A smaller number, exclusively small quantities, come from Norway, the Netherlands, Schleswig-Holstein, East Frisia and Pomerania.

British Isles

Finds of peat butter have been documented from Ireland and Scotland since the 17th century. They were especially made in peat diggings in the 19th century, when peat was extracted on an increased scale. Peat diggers had a secondary income from the sale of peat butter, which was used as wagon grease or a remedy for external use.

To date, nearly 500 finds of bog butter have been documented.[1] The sizes of the individual finds start with small quantities of 100 to 150 g, but often reach more than 20 kg, in one case even 50 kg.[2] More than half of all bog butter finds were packed in wooden vessels such as barrels, buckets or beakers. Other finds were wrapped in plant leaves, animal skins or cloths, or packed in pig bladders or wicker baskets. About a third of the finds were found with no discernible wrapping.[1] The oldest Irish find investigated to date comes from Knockdrin (Irish: Cnoc Droinne) in County Offaly, Ireland, which could be dated to between 1745 and 1635 BC by radiocarbon dating.[3] Among the best-known finds is the approximately 35 kg oak barrel-wrapped find from Gilltown, County Kildare, which dates to the 1st millennium BC.[4] The oldest Scottish finds, according to radiocarbon dating, date to the 3rd and 2nd centuries B.C. A research group at the University of Bristol studied the fatty acid composition of Scottish bog butter in the 1990s. Of nine samples studied, six were milk fat-based and the others were made from slaughter fat.[5] Butter finds are exhibited in the National Museum of Ireland in Dublin and the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh, among other places.

European mainland

Only minor finds of butter have been documented in the bogs of continental Europe. These have mostly been interpreted as sacrificial or funerary offerings. The archaeologist Alfred Dieck, who is controversial in expert circles, mentioned butter as a grave offering in an 1879 find in Lake Günz near Stralsund,[6] as well as a bog body found in 1861 on the island of Fehmarn.[7] However, these two finds cannot be confirmed due to the unverifiable sources.[8]

Interpretation

Why the butter was buried in the bog has not been conclusively determined. The most probable variant is that surplus butter was preserved in this way in the summer under exclusion of air. Possibly it was also a kind of taste refinement.[9] William Petty, for example, mentioned in the 17th century that the Irish ate “strong butter”, a rancid butter that had been made ripe by storing it in the bog.[10] His contemporary, the poet Samuel Butler, also reported that in Ireland butter was buried in the bog for seven years.[5] The majority opinion in Ireland is that the custom had a religious significance. As butter has been found in Ireland in containers of wood, bark, skin, and cloth, and basket, one inclines to this theory[11], on the other hand, there were historically few other materials for making containers for butter, besides pottery or the very valuable metals. With very few exceptions, the butter finds from the Bronze Age, which were packed in ceramic vessels, were deposited as food additions at burials. Compared to the otherwise well researched contemporaneous hoard or sacrificial finds of metal objects, the known bog butter finds show only few similarities, which would argue against a sacrificial theory rather than in favour of the preservation theory. In 20 of the c. 46 Iron Age bog butter finds, the deposits were located close to historic political or natural boundaries, a phenomenon also observed in Irish bog bodies, and seen in a ritual context.[3]

Literature

  • Jessica Smyth, Robert Berstan, Emmanuelle Casanova, Finbar McCormick, Isabella Mulhall, Maeve Sikora, Chris Synnott & Richard P. Evershed: Four millennia of dairy surplus and deposition revealed through compound-specific stable isotope analysis and radiocarbon dating of Irish bog butters. In: Scientific Reports. No. 9:4559, 2019, doi:10.1038/s41598-019-40975-y [English, Current dating of finds].
  • Liam Downey, Chris Synnott, Eamonn P. Kelly, Catherine Stanton: Bog Butter: Dating Profile and location. In: Archaeology Ireland. No. 20, 2006, ISSN 0790-892X, pp. 32-34 (English, issue 1).
  • Hermann Van Aken-Quesar: Moor und Torf in der Volkskultur des steirischen Ennstales in vergleichenden europäischen Bezügen. Graz 1995, pp. 227-229 (literature.at – Dissertationsschrift, Karl-Franzens-Universität Graz).
  • Bog butter test. In: New Scientist. 20.March 2004 (online[accessed 8 December 2011]).

Individual references

  1. a b Liam Downey, Chris Synnott, Eamonn P. Kelly, Catherine Stanton: Bog Butter: Dating Profile and location. In: Archaeology Ireland. No. 20, 2006, ISSN 0790-892X, pp. 32-34 (English, issue 1).
  2. Bog Butter find from Co. Offaly.In IrishArchaeology. 28 April 2011, retrieved 8 December 2011 (English).
  3. a b Jessica Smyth, Robert Berstan, Emmanuelle Casanova, Finbar McCormick, Isabella Mulhall, Maeve Sikora, Chris Synnott & Richard P. Evershed: Four millennia of dairy surplus and deposition revealed through compound-specific stable isotope analysis and radiocarbon dating of Irish bog butters. In: Scientific Reports. No. 9:4559, 2019, doi:10.1038/s41598-019-40975-y [English, Current dating of finds].
  4. Lisa Leander:3000 year old butter.In: epoc. September 1, 2009, retrieved December 8, 2011 (A nearly 3000-year-old find from Ireland).
  5. a b David Prudames:Experts Get To The Bottom Of Ancient Bog Butter Mystery.In: Culture24. 23 March 2004, retrieved 8 December 2011 (English).
  6. Alfred Dieck: Die Moorleiche vom Günzer See bei Stralsund vom Sommer 1879 und das Problem der Moorbutter. In: Greifswald-Stralsund Yearbook. Vol. 1, 1961, pp. 26-39.
  7. Alfred Dieck, Otto Stöber: Moorbutter – Eine kulturhistorische Studie. In: Schriftenreihe des “Österreichischen Moorforschungs-Institutes” Bad Neydharting. Volume 22. Länderverlag, 1962, ISSN 0075-2932, pp. 96-106 .
  8. Sabine Eisenbeiß: Berichte über Moorleichen aus Niedersachsen im Nachlass von Alfred Dieck. Hamburg 1992 (Master’s thesis, Archaeological Institute Hamburg).
  9. Facts About Bog Butter.(No longer available online.) Irish Peatland Conservation Council, archived on.Original27September 2011; retrieved 8 December 2011 (English).
  10. William Petty: The political Anatomy of Ireland. London 1691, p. 82ff.
  11. Bog butter.(No longer available online.) MovilleInishowen, archived on.Original24October 2011; retrieved 8 December 2011 (English).

Web links