Very old butter. (Photo: Cavan County Museum)

In Emlagh bog in County Meath, Ireland, which was once at the juncture of three different kingdoms, a turf cutter has found a giant knob of “bog butter,” buried hundreds of years ago and preserved to this day.

“It did smell like butter,” one person who held the giant lump told UTV Ireland.

“Bog butter” is butter that has been buried in a bog. The Irish Times describes it as a “creamy white dairy product, which smells like a strong cheese.” The earliest known examples date back almost 2,000 years, but there are records of people burying butter as recently as the 1800s. This one is estimated to be an early example but will be studied further to date it.

Why would anyone bury butter in a bog? Often, to preserve it: butter made hundreds of years ago, without salt, wouldn’t last long, but the cool, low oxygen environment of the bog could extend its life. Bog butter is sometimes found encased in wooden containers or animal hide, to protect it as well.

This hunk of bog butter had no case, though. It may have been buried for a more formal reason—as an offering to the gods, who might keep the place it was buried safe.

Even after hundreds of years, it could still be edible, although it’s not clear that it would taste good or that it’s a good idea to eat butter meant for gods.

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