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It fell to the bottom of a loch 2,500 years ago – its story long untold as it remained hidden by the deep, dark waters.
Original article: Scotsman.com

Monday, 20th July 2020, 5:00 pm

Monday, 20th July 2020, 4:58 pm

Updated 

The replica crannog on Loch Tay, where the butter was found.

Now, the wooden butter dish remains one of the most evocative items left behind by Scotland’s ancient water dwellers who made their homes on Loch Tay.

The dish was recovered during earlier excavations on the loch where at least 17 crannogs, or Iron Age wooden houses, were once dotted up and down the water.

Built from alder with a life span of around 20 years, the structures simply collapsed into the loch once they had served their purpose, with an incredible array of objects taken with them.

The 2,500-year-old butter dish and the remains of the butter. PIC: Scottish Crannog Centre.

The 2,500-year-old butter dish and the remains of the butter. PIC: Scottish Crannog Centre.

Among them was the dish which, remarkably, still carried traces of butter made by this Iron Age community.

Rich Hiden, archaeologist at the Scottish Crannog Centre, said the item had helped to illuminate the everyday life of the crannog dwellers who farmed the surrounding land, grew barley and ancient wheats such as spelt and emmer, and reared animals.

The crannogs were probably considered high-status sites which offered good security as well as easy access to trading routes along the Tay and into the North Sea.

Mr Hiden said conditions at the bottom of the loch had offered the perfect environment to preserve the butter and the dish.

He said: “Because of the fantastic anaerobic conditions, where there is very light, oxygen or bacteria to break down anything organic, you get this type of sealed environment.

“When they started excavating, they pulled out this square wooden dish, well around three quarters of a square wooden dish, which had these really nice chisel marks on the sides as well as this grey stuff.”

Liped analysis on this matter found that it was dairy material, with experts believing it likely originated from a cow.

Holes in the bottom of the wooden dish further suggest that it was used for the buttering process.

Cream would have been churned until thickened until it splits to form the buttermilk, with a woven cloth – possibly made from nettle fibres – placed in the dish with the clumps of cream then further pushed through to separate the last of the liquid.Read MoreBreakthrough in study of Scotland’s ancient loch dwellers

The butter then may have been turned into cheese by adding rennet, which naturally forms in a number of plants, including nettles.

Mr Hiden said: “This dish is so valuable in many ways. To be honest, we would expect people of this time to be eating dairy. In the early Iron Age, they had mastered the technology of smelting iron ore into to’s so mastering the technology of dairy we would expect.

“So while it may not surprise us that they are eating dairy, what is so important about this butter dish is that it helps us to identify what life was like in the crannogs and the skills and the tools that they had

“To me, that is archaeology at its finest. It is using the object itself to unravel the story. The best thing about this butter dish is that is so personal and offers us such a complete snapshot of what was happening here.

He added: “It is not just a piece of wood. You look at it and you start to extrapolate so much. If you start to pull one thread, you look at the tool marks and you see they were using very fine chisels to make this kind of object. They were probably making their own so that gives another aspect as to how life was here.”

It is believed that 20 people and animals lived in a crannog at any one time. Many trees were used to fashion the homes, with the Iron Age residents having a solid knowledge of trees with their houses thatched with reed and bracken.

Hazel was woven into panels to make walls and partitions.

Plans are underway to relocate the Scottish Crannog Centre to a bigger site at Dalerb, with three to four crannogs to be built in the water there.

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A 22-pound lump of bog butter. (Photo courtesy of Cavan Museum)

A 22-pound lump of bog butter. (Photo courtesy of Cavan Museum)

Original Article:

By Travis M. Andrews June 14

washingtonpost.com

 

Finding buried treasure is a dream as old as stories themselves. Treasure chests overflowing with gold doubloons, shiny lamps containing genies, gargantuan lumps of butter that are thousands of years old.

Okay, maybe most don’t dream of unearthing enormous chunks of butter, but that’s exactly what Jack Conway discovered in the Emlagh bog in County Meath, Ireland, at the beginning of June, Atlas Obscura reported.

Conway is a turf cutter, meaning he harvests “turf” or peat — it’s a type of moss — from a bog to burn for warmth during the winter. He was chopping turf at the bog when he came across a 22-pound chunk of butter, the Irish Times reported. Researchers at the Cavan Museum estimated it to be more than 2,000 years old.

Bog butter is just that: butter made from cow’s milk that’s been buried in a bog, though, after thousands of years, it often has the consistency of cheese.

It’s actually not that uncommon of a find for turf cutters in Ireland, either. As Smithsonian magazine noted, a 3,000-year-old, three-foot-wide barrel stuffed with 77 pounds of bog butter was found in 2009. Even more shocking, turf cutters found a 5,000-year-old wooden keg containing 100 pounds of the butter in 2013.

People have actually been stumbling upon bog butter for at least two centuries. In the 1892 edition of the Journal of the Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland, the Rev. James O’Laverty recounts finding a lump that “still retains the marks of the hand and fingers of the ancient dame who pressed it into its present shape” and that “tastes somewhat like cheese.”

In her article “Bog Butter: A Two Thousand Year History” in the Journal of Irish Archaeology, Caroline Earwood wrote: “It is usually found as a whitish, solid mass of fatty material with a distinctive, pungent and slightly offensive smell. It is found either as a lump, or in containers which are most often made of wood but include baskets and skins.”

The earliest discoveries of bog butter date to the Iron Age, but she wrote that it may have existed earlier.

No one is sure exactly why the butter was buried in bogs — some think it was sometimes an offering to the gods — but evidence strongly suggests it was a method of preservation.

Most bog butter doesn’t contain salt, which was often used as a means of preserving food before modern refrigeration. The bogs, which are essentially cold-water swamps, and their native peat do a fine job of keeping food fresh. A University of Michigan researcher found that meat left in a bog for two years was just as preserved as meat kept in his freezer, the University Record reported in 1995.

Peat is compressed plant matter, which Nature reported is both cool and contains little oxygen while remaining highly acidic, allowing it to act as a sort of refrigerator. It seems to work — Savina Donohoe, curator of Cavan County Museum who sent Conway’s butter lump to the National Museum of Ireland, said it smelled just like, well, butter.

“It did smell like butter. After I had held it in my hands, my hands really did smell of butter,” Donohoe told UTV Ireland. “There was even a smell of butter in the room it was in.”

In fact, peat bogs are such wonderful environments for preserving organic matter, they’ve been known to almost perfectly mummify corpses.

Hundreds of “bog bodies” have been found during the past two centuries, according to the USA Today. The oldest one unearthed is a preserved skeleton called the Koelbjerg Woman, which dates to about 8000 B.C.

Other bodies, though, retain their skin and internal organs. The Tollund Man, for example, still had his leathery skin intact when he was found in the Bjaeldskovdal bog in Denmark and is considered by some to be the most well preserved body ever found from prehistoric times. He was so well preserved that the men who found him thought they had stumbled on a modern murder scene, PBS reported. He was actually about 2,400 years old.

Given that level of preservation, most of the butter is edible. Irish celebrity chef Kevin Thornton, who owns the Michelin-starred Thornton’s Restaurant in Dublin, claimed to have tasted a 4,000-year-old sample of bog butter.

“I was really excited about it. We tasted it,” he told the Irish Independent in 2014. “There’s fermentation but it’s not fermentation because it’s gone way beyond that. Then you get this taste coming down or right up through your nose.”

Andy Halpin, assistant keeper in the Cavan Museum’s Irish antiquities division, said one could probably eat the butter, though he’s not sure why one would.

“Theoretically the stuff is still edible, but we wouldn’t say it’s advisable,” Halpin told the Irish Times.

Curious what it might taste like, Ben Reade, head of culinary research and development at Nordic Food Lab created his own bog butter, albeit one aged for a bit less time than the aforementioned.

Echoing the lines from James Farewell’s 1689 poem “The Irish Hudibras” — “butter to eat with their hog, was seven years buried in a bog” — they buried one large birch barrel of butter in the ground, where it will remain for seven years. The other remained in the ground for only three months, before it was tasted at the Nordic Food Lab in Copenhagen and at the Oxford Symposium on Food and Cookery in 2012, in Britain.

He wrote of the flavors:

In its time underground the butter did not go rancid, as one would expect butter of the same quality to do in a fridge over the same time. The organoleptic qualities of this product were too many surprising, causing disgust in some and enjoyment in others. The fat absorbs a considerable amount of flavor from its surroundings, gaining flavor notes which were described primarily as “animal” or “gamey,” “moss,” “funky,” “pungent,” and “salami.” These characteristics are certainly far-flung from the creamy acidity of a freshly made cultured butter, but have been found useful in the kitchen especially with strong and pungent dishes, in a similar manner to aged ghee.

Even so, if you happen to find a lump of butter buried in the back yard, it may be best to forgo it for the store-bought variety.

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wooden butter churn lid unearthed at Norton Bridge is from the Saxon period following scientific tests.
Evidence of prehistoric activity was uncovered in the same area of the site and archaeologists believed the butter churn could be from the same period.
But radiocarbon tests have revealed the lid of the butter churn dates from the early medieval period when the area was part of the Mercian kingdom.
The tests have put a fragment of wood found with the lid as dating between AD715-890, so the lid is from the same period as the Staffordshire Hoard.

archaeologist at the site where Network Rail is building a new flyover and 11 bridges to remove the last major bottleneck on the West Coast main line as part of the £250m Stafford Area ImprovementsProgramme. The work is being delivered by the Staffordshire Alliance – a partnership of Atkins, Laing O’Rourke, Network Rail and VolkerRail.
Dr Tetlow said she was surprised but delighted by the news as there was so little evidence of the period archaeologically.
She said: “During this period this part of Staffordshire was part of the Mercian heartland and was populated by a pagan tribe called the Pencersaete.
“Existing knowledge of this period for the north and east of the Midlands and the UK in general is very scarce, so this find is fantastic and of regional significance.”
Dr Tetlow, of Headland Archaeology, added the tribe would have experienced similar weather conditions to us with unsettled and stormy weather.
“This was a period of dynamic climate change culminating in the Medieval Warm Period. The weather patterns were similar to those we are experiencing today.
“It was increasingly unsettled and stormy with flooding and an increase in temperature.”

further evidence of worked wooden stakes and wood chips – were made in a section of waterlogged peat close to Meece Road.
A number of Victorian stoneware bottles bearing the names of breweries from Bristol to Manchester have also been unearthed.
Residents will have the chance to view some of the objects and discuss them with Dr Tetlow and other colleagues working on the site at an information day in June. She is also preparing a paper on the finds for the Stafford and Mid-Staffs Archaeological Society.
Staffordshire Alliance manager Matt Clark said: “Despite a challenging workload and at times some challenging weather we’ve worked hard with Emma to safeguard archaeology at the site and it’s been fascinating so see what she’s uncovered.
“We’re looking forward to sharing and discussing some of these finds with the community.”

By Staffordshire Newsletter

Original article:

Staffordshirenewsletter

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Topic: Ancient Methods-Modern uses

 

Excavation the ash around the silos, view to the west. Photo by Yasser Mahmoud

 

 

Overview of the silo building, excavation and recording. View to the west. Photo by Yasser Mahmoud

 

 

One of the most interesting things that I noticed in my excavation, in what seems to be a storage building that dates to the Old Kingdom in Giza, is a concentration of ash. This ash surrounded circular mud brick silos that had been constructed beside each other forming an L. The ash itself was very dark, dense and soft. Thinking about the silos and the ash, I remembered my mother and her storage methods for the butter. She put the butter in a big aluminum jar and surrounded the jar with a layer of soft ash to prevent the ants from reaching the butter. My colleague Hussein Rekaby, an excavation supervisor, told me that the people in his village near Aswan still use the same idea in their construction of storage silos.  They start by spreading ash horizontally, then they put clay to make the base of the silo before building the silo itself. Hanan Mahmoud, hearing Hussein’s story, told me that she exposed a layer of ash deposit under a sequence of round mud brick silos when she excavated House E to the East of Queen Khentkawes tomb at Giza. We follow some of our ancestors’ daily life behaviors and customs.

Original Article:

aeraweb.org

 

Posted on Feb 1, 2012

Posted by Rabee Eissa, SCA archaeologist

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