Four millennia of dairy surplus and deposition revealed through compound-specific stable isotope analysis and radiocarbon dating of Irish bog butters

Jessica Smyth, Robert Berstan, Emmanuelle Casanove, Finbar McCormick, Isabella Mulhall, Maeve Sikora, Chris Synnott, Richard P. Evershed

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Abstract

Bog butters are large white or yellow waxy deposits regularly discovered within the peat bogs of Ireland and Scotland. They represent an extraordinary survival of prehistoric and later agricultural products, comprising the largest deposits of fat found anywhere in nature. Often found in wooden containers or wrapped in animal bladders, they are considered to have been buried intentionally by past farming communities. While previous analysis has determined that Irish bog butters derive from animal fat, their precise characterisation could not be achieved due to diagenetic compositional alterations during burial. Via compound-specific stable isotope analysis, we provide the first conclusive evidence of a dairy fat origin for the Irish bog butter tradition, which differs from bog butter traditions observed elsewhere. Our research also reveals a remarkably long-lived tradition of deposition and possible curation spanning at least 3500 years, from the Early Bronze Age (c. 1700 BC) to the 17th century AD. This is conclusively established via an extensive suite of both bulk and compound-specific radiocarbon dates.
Original languageEnglish
Article number4559
Number of pages10
JournalNature Scientific Reports
Volume9
Early online date14 Mar 2019
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 01 Dec 2019

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