Butter in bog may be 2,500 years old


BOG BUTTER found in a timber vessel in a bog at Shancloon near Caherlistrane, north Galway, could be 2,000 to 2,500 years old, according to a specialist from the National Museum of Ireland.

The butter, weighing almost two stone, was found in a timber keg which may have been hewn from a tree trunk and shaped into a barrel using early Iron Age implements.

The container of bog butter was found in a plot of bog where Ray Moylan from Liss, Headford, was having his annual supply of turf cut by local contractor Declan McDonagh.

Mr Moylan, a part-time bus driver, contacted the Office of Public Works, Headland Archaeology in Galway and the National Museum of Ireland regarding the discovery.

The keg of bog butter was found at a depth of 3-4ft. While the mechanical bucket of the turf cutting machine hit the vessel, it only caused damage to part of the barrel and the butter remained intact.

As he surveyed the find in the Galway bog this week, Padraig Clancy, an assistant keeper with the National Museum of Ireland, said it could be anything up to 2,500 years old.

Along with colleague Karena Morton, conservator at the National Museum of Country Life, Castlebar, they removed the butter and the vessel, and it is currently on its way to the national museum’s facility in Lanesboro.

“The type of vessel it is in usually helps us to date the period the butter is from, and this one could date back to the Iron Age,” said Mr Clancy.

Scottish archaeologist Ross MacLeod, who is with the Galway office of Headland Archaeology, said he was aware of similar finds in his homeland and around Ireland, but the quantity discovered in Galway was large.

“It would have been a substantial loss to the family that buried the butter in the bog that they never recovered it. Perhaps the person who buried it died or forgot where it was left.

“That might have been stored up by a family during the summer and put into the bog for use during the cold winter months. Its loss could have been a tremendous one for some family a long, long time ago.”

The butter is very white but that is often the case with similar finds, according to Mr MacLeod.

Bogs were viewed as a primitive form of refrigeration by people in the past as the peat creates a vacuum around buried material.