Butter made 2,000 years ago was found in Ireland, and the ancient spread may still be edible, researchers said. In all, roughly 22 pounds of the substance was recovered from a bog.
Jack Conway found the large ball of butter while working the Emlagh Bog near his home in Drakerath, located in Meath County. People who have made contact with the ancient dairy product say the large block gives off a strong smell of cheese.
"In early medieval Ireland butter was a luxury food often used as a means to pay taxes and rents. It was sometimes used as a offering to the spirits and gods to keep people and their property safe — when used as offerings it would have been buried and never dug up again," the Cavan Museum in Ireland, which is currently holding the butter, reported in a press release.
Bogs are often able to faithfully preserve materials, which become encased within their bodies. Low temperatures combine with an environment rich in acids and low in oxygen to preserve many relics from the ancient past. Back around that time, 20 centuries ago, bogs were often used to preserve foods. At the time Conway discovered the butter, it lay 12 feet beneath the surface of the bog. This suggests the butter may have been an offering to the gods rather than simply food stored for later use. Such sacrifices were often made to encourage renewed prosperity. Food buried for storage was often encased in animal hide or wooden boxes to keep the food cleaner than it would be otherwise.
The Irish Times reports that findings such as this are not that unusual, but the location where the find was made was once the location where three baronies met, and 11 townlands dotted the region.
"These bogs in those times were inaccessible, mysterious places. It is at the juncture of three separate kingdoms, and politically it was like a no-man's-land — that is where it all hangs together," said Andy Halpin of the Irish Antiquities Division.
The butter will be sent to the National Museum, where the ancient find will be carbon dated in order to confirm the age. Kevin Thornton, a well-known chef, told the press he has sampled bog butter in the past. Although researchers say the butter is likely edible, the recovered food product from 20 centuries ago is unlikely to taste pleasant due to its extreme age and natural means of preservation.