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Home  > News  > Bog Butter Mystery Solved?

Bog Butter Mystery Solved?

April 02 2004

For many years farmers and turf cutters have been finding huge lumps of what looks like butter in the peat bogs of Scotland and Ireland.

Shows a photo of two children with a chunk of bog butter, in a field. A boy is pretending to take a bite while a girl is spreading some on a slice of bread. Three other children crouch in the background.

Photo: these children from Barnderg National School in Ireland are testing out this giant lump of bog butter found by turf cutters at Poll na gCapaill Bog in 1999.

© Ray Ryan

The 'butter' is a waxy substance, usually a creamy white or very pale yellow colour. Lumps dating back as far as the Bronze Age, 3000 years ago, have been found in barrels, baskets or animal skins. They're buried in holes deep in the bogs.

Bog butter has fascinated experts for years as until now no-one's been sure exactly what it is.

A team of scientists have been running tests on bog butter from the Museum of Scotland and found that some lumps were made of dairy products while others were meat-based.

Photo: fancy spreading this on your morning toast?

© Trustees of the National Museums of Scotland.

Shows a photo of an open-topped wooden barrel. Dirty yellow bog butter is bulging out of the top of the barrel.

This tells us for sure that our ancestors in Scotland and Ireland used the peat bogs as a sort of fridge (remember, this was long before electricity was discovered and fridges were invented). They would put their stores of food in the bogs to keep them cool and safe.

Peat bogs are laid down over thousands of years as plants decompose, or rot. The peat's very wet and heavy so does a good job of keeping the bog butter sealed, away from germs and bacteria in the air.

Shows a black and white photo of a wooden barrel seen from five different angles.

Photo: an early version of the plastic margarine carton!

© Trustees of the National Museums of Scotland.

Once peat has been dug up and dried out it burns very well, which is why locals dig up the bogs and keep finding bog butter.

All sorts of questions still remain though. Why do you think the bog butter stores weren't dug up and used by the people who buried them?

Was the food buried because the bog made it taste better perhaps? Was it buried for special occasions or as part of a ceremony?

Let us know what you think by using the Get In Touch page.

You can go and see bog butter in the Museum of Scotland and at Armagh County Museum in Northern Ireland.

Story by Anra Kennedy