Saturday, 18 March 2017

David Gorodok-Turov style

I love this picture. Traditional head dress from Belarus. 


This head dress, belongs to the so called "David Gorodok-Turov" style - a complex of traditional Belarusian folk costumes of the Polesye. 

The area where we find this style of traditional folk dress lies along the  Pripyat River, which flows east through Ukraine, then through Belarus parallel to Ukraine border, and then Ukraine again, draining into the Dnieper.


Along the river lie the Pinsk Marshes, a vast natural region of wetlands along the forested basin of the Pripyat River and its tributaries from Brest to the west to Mogilev to the northeast and Kiev to the southeast. It is one of the largest wetland areas of Europe.


Now here is something very very interesting indeed. My friend Sima Kosminski sent me a link to this article, which contains an interview with a couple from Lelikov near Kobrin in Polesye. 


They are Peter and Anastasia Shapetsyuki - known collectors of local folklore. 

Like other people in Polesye,  who wear this "David Gorodok-Turov" style of traditional folk costume, they apparently speak their own unique dialect which is different from the dialects of the neighboring population. And they have a very interesting legend that explains why their language is different:

"Serb tribes were great enemies of the Romans. Finally a Roman emperor got really angry and sent an army to attack them. The Serbs were driven out of their homeland and came and settled down here, in the Pinsk Marshes, in Polesye..."

Now what Serbs and what Romans is this legend talking about? Balkan Serbs and Romans? Or Baltic Sorbs and Holy Roman Empire? Both groups of Serbian tribes were indeed great enemies of their "Romans" and waged centuries long wars against invading "Romans". So both are very good candidates to be "the Serbs" from the legend. 

What is interesting, judging by this map from Eupedia, it seems that genetically Polesyans are definitively linked to Balkan Serbs:



What do you think?

This is a very very interesting development, don't you think so?

Does anyone have any additional information about this legend or about Polesye culture and language?

Thursday, 16 March 2017

St Patrick and snakes

Patrick banishes all snakes from Ireland



The absence of snakes in Ireland gave rise to the legend that they had all been banished by St. Patrick, He chased them into the sea after they attacked him during a 40-day fast he was undertaking on top of Mt Croagh Patrick.

The problem is all evidence suggests that post-glacial Ireland never had snakes. So maybe the snakes that Patrick expelled were not real terrestrial snakes but symbolic celestial snakes?

In my post "Fulacht fiadh - salt extraction facility?" I talked about the climate change patterns in Ireland over last 5,000 years and how they could have affected people's ability to extract salt from sea water. 

The Greenland Ice Cores provide a temperature record for the last 5,000 years. Clearly manifest are three temperature peaks which correspond with the archaeologically and historically documented Warm Periods in the North Atlantic region: Minoan Warm Period 1450–1300 BC, a Roman Warm Period 250 BC – 0 AD, the Medieval Warm Period 800–1100 AD. On the chart you can also clearly see the well documented extreme cold period known as the little Ice Age 1350 to 1850 AD.


"The Bronze Age Optimum" starts with the sudden sharp rise in temperature during the Minoan Warm Period which started right about 1500 BC. How warm was Atlantic northern Europe during the Minoan Warm Period can be discerned from the fact that during the Minoan warm period, millet was grown in southern Scandinavia. Today Millet is grown in tropical and subtropical regions, it is an important crop in Asia, Africa and in the southern U.S.. The average annual temperature in Mississippi and Alabama where millet is grown today is about 10 degrees, which should be compared with today's average annual temperature in Denmark, which is 8 degrees.

The temperature after the Minoan Warm Period drops and has another minimum around 1200 BC rising to another maximum around 1000 BC. After that it oscillates around relatively stable low value until it suddenly starts to rise around 250 BC. This is the beginning of the Roman Warm Period

The Roman warm period started quite suddenly around 250 BC. Some studies in a bog in Penido Vello in Spain have shown that in Roman times it was around 2-2.5 degrees warmer than in the present. The Roman warm period is amply documented by numerous analyses of sediments, tree rings, ice cores and pollen – especially from the northern hemisphere. Studies from China, North America, Venezuela, South Africa, Iceland, Greenland and the Sargasso Sea have all demonstrated the Roman Warm Period. Additionally, it has been documented by ancient authors and historical events.

How warm was Northern Europe during the Roman Warm Period can be seen by the fact that during the culmination of the Roman warm period olive trees grew in the Rhine Valley in Germany. Citrus trees and grapes were cultivated in England as far north as near Hadrian’s Wall near Newcastle.

The temperature then has a sudden drop during the first century AD but it then rises as suddenly and stays stable high until the end of the fourth century AD when it suddenly drops during the first half of the fifth century to an extreme low level. 

The dates of St Patrick's life are uncertain. His own writings provide no evidence for any dating more precise than the 5th century generally. The Irish annals for the fifth century date Patrick's arrival in Ireland at 432 AD. His sermon on the Mt Croagh Patrick, during which he banished snakes from Ireland must have happened soon afterwords...

St Patrick's arrival to Ireland coincides with the beginning of the sudden huge drop in average temperature, which during his life fell to the level comparable to the temperature during the so called "Little ice age". 

So Patrick arrives to Ireland. He defeats the old Sun God Crom Dubh, whose holy mountain was the same Mt Croagh Patrick from which Patrick drove snakes into the sea. He converts people to Christianity. And at the same time during the destruction of the old religion based on sun worship, the sun "dies". The heat of the sun disappears. 


In my post "Three suns" I talked about the symbolic link between Snakes and Dragons and the heat of the sun. This link was clearly preserved in Slavic mythology. Snakes come out during the hottest part of the year and thus symbolize the summer. Slavs believed that snakes "suck the heat out of the sun" and that this is why summer sun eventually looses it's heat and autumn and winter arrive. The dragon is actually the symbol of the summer sun's extreme heat, destructive heat which brings drought.  

Symbolically with the disappearance of the sun's heat, the snakes and dragons, the symbols of sun's summer heat, disappeared too. 

The belief that snakes and dragons were driven out of Ireland by Patrick, could be remnant of the blame that the Sun worshiping Pre-Christian Irish put on Patrick and his Christianization efforts for the sudden (and probably catastrophic) climate change. Basically they blamed Patrick for driving the summer out of Ireland.

On the other hand, it is actually quite possible that Patrick's owes his success in converting Ireland to Christianity to this sudden (and probably catastrophic) change of climate. To worshipers of the Sun God Crom Dubh, it must have looked like their god has abandoned them. So they turned to Christ, the "savior"...

Monday, 13 March 2017

Lion and fish

This is a very interesting Celtic coin from Panonia. Unfortunately I don't know anything else about this coin, so would appreciate any additional info, like the location where it was found and dating. 



Front: Solar rider. 

I already wrote about the symbolism of the solar rider in my posts "The horseman" and "King John". It is a very common motif on Celtic coins which shows that Celtic religion was in essence a solar cult. 

In short, this solar rider represents the sun god. The sun god dominates the white part of the year, the period between Belatane and Samhain, the summer and autumn. You can read more about the Celtic calendar in my post "Two crosses".

Back: Lion's head. In the middle of the white period of the year, at the point that marks the end of summer and the beginning of autumn, we find zodiac sign Leo (lion). The point that marks the end of summer and beginning of autumn, Lughnasadh, falls in the middle of the Leo zodiac sign.

But it gets better. 

Why does the lion have fish symbol around his eye? 

Have a look at this image:


The point marking end of the Leo (lion) zodiac sign is directly opposite to the point marking the beginning of the Pisces (fish) zodiac sign. The constellation Pisces is invisible during the Pisces period. In the Northern hemisphere Pisces can be seen from August to January, right after the Leo period...

Lion is literally looking at fish...

Such complex zodiac imagery is an interesting thing to find on a Celtic coin don't you think?

Friday, 10 March 2017

Three suns

There is a Serbian legend that says that once there were three suns, but dragon ate two. It would have eaten all three, if it wasn't for a swallow who managed to hide the last, third one, under her wing.

This is why today we only have one sun.

Three suns rising over the snow covered land...


This phenomena is called "sun dogs" or "mock suns", meteorological name parhelion (plural parhelia). This is an atmospheric phenomenon that consists of a bright spot to the left and/or right of the Sun. They often occur in pairs, one on each side of the Sun, mostly at sunrise or sunset. They can occur at any time during the year but are most prominent and striking during the winter. 

I would here want to give the analysis of this legend. 

Dragon eating two out of three suns

In Serbian folklore, snake and dragon are linked. Dragons are actually believed to be just very old very big snakes. They are both associated with the fire, the heat of the sun. This is because snakes only appear during the hottest part of the year, summer. If the appearance of the three suns on the horizon is the most common and most striking during the winter, then the appearance of the snakes (dragons) marks the end of the three suns season. From that moment on it is most likely that only one sun will rise every morning, the one that the snake (dragon) didn't manage to eat.

Swallow saving the last, third, sun

In my post "Leto" i talked about the link between the return of the migratory birds and the beginning of the summer. I proposed that the Slavic word for summer "leto" actually comes from the word "let" meaning "flight". When I was a kid, it was the arrival of swallows, of all other migratory birds, that was the definite sign that the winter was over. If the appearance of the three suns on the horizon is the most common and most striking during the winter, then the arrival of the swallows marks the end of the three suns season. From that moment on it is most likely that only one sun will rise every morning, the one hidden under the swallow's wing. 

So far so good. 

But what about the the statement "once there were three suns"? Was there a time when three suns rising in the east was everyday occurrence? Well the rising of the three suns on the horizon is the most common and most striking during the winter. So there is a good chance then that the during the eternal winter of the last Ice Age, the three suns rising in the east was everyday occurrence. 

Then the climate changes. The sun regained it's heat. The dragon, which is in Serbian folklore symbol of the sun's fire, sun's heat, returns, and eats two out of the three suns. The birds, including swallows return to the land which is now green again, saving the last, third sun, from the dragon...

So is it possible that this legend is actually talking about the Last Ice Age, when every morning "three suns rose in the east"? If so it can be dated to the end of the Younger Dryas period, which lasted between 10,800 and 9500 BC. Well, as I already wrote in my posts about Montenegrian tumuluses, we have archaeological proof that the Irish Annals preserved 5000 years old stories about the migration of the R1b beaker people into Ireland. Also as I already wrote in my post "Dreamtime" we have proof that some of the Australian Aboriginal stories are over 40,000 years old. So I believe that it is possible that this Serbian legend could be over 10,000 years old memory of the last Ice Age, the time when there were three suns, before the raging dragon ate two...

What do you think?

Tuesday, 7 March 2017

Glavica tumulus

Yesterday while I was writing my post about Glavica cemetery, I had this nagging feeling of Déjà vu: calotte shaped isolated hill with many medieval graves dug into its sides. Protected from destruction and looting by a local taboo...

But by the time I have finished my article I still couldn't put my finger on it. So I published my article, went to have dinner, and then it hit me. Suddenly I knew where I had seen something like that before. 


Gruda Boljevića tumulus is one of the most interesting and most important archaeological sites of the Montenegrin Late Copper - Early Bronze age. It is also probably one of the most important archaeological sites found recently in Europe. 

The reason why I believe that this tumulus is so important, is because it shows that the dolmen building, golden cross disc making culture which developed in Montenegro in the first half of the third millennium BC, has its direct cultural roots in Yamna culture of the Black Sea steppe. Why is this important? Because the gold cross discs found in this tumulus and other Montenegrian tumuluses are later found in Beaker culture sites in Ireland and Britan. And the Irish annals tell us that the Early Irish who brought with them metallurgy and gold migrated to Ireland from Russian steppe, via Balkans and then Iberia. Gruda Boljevića is the last and most important piece of evidence which confirms that the Irish annals contain not pseudo histories, but real histories which talk about events that happened in the 3rd millennium BC...

But Gruda Boljevića is also interesting in another way. 


Tumuluses are well known archaeological features in Montenegro, which is why Gruda Boljevića was also assumed to be a prehistoric grave even before the excavation. The local legend says that two wedding parties met and fought and that the victims of this tragic fight were buried under the Gruda Boljevića tumulus. This type of legends is often linked to ancient burial type archaeological sites in Serbia, Bosnia and Montenegro. I already wrote about this type of sites in my post about wedding party graveyards. So it was assumed that Gruda Boljevića was one of such ancient burial sites. This assumption was confirmed during building of a house south of the tumulus, when one of many medieval stone cist graves,  which were dug into the original bronze age tumulus was discovered. This is the plan of the Gruda Boljevića tumulus with the locations of the medieval graves in and around the tumulus.

The Medieval graves fall into two types: 

Stone boxes with gable roof like tops


Stone boxes with flat tops


The skeletons found in these medieval graves date from the period 12-13th century. 


Graves were full of grave goods which show strong cultural links to both coastal regions of Montenegro and the inland regions of Serbia particularly the Morava valley. Here are some examples of the grave goods found:




The above mentioned legend and knowledge of the existence of the graves, saved the mound from destruction, which was not the case with other mounds which allegedly existed nearby. You can find additional information and detailed description of the tumulus in the article entitled "Podgorica praistorijske humke i srednjovjekovne nekropole Gruda Boljevića".

Gruda Boljevića tumulus had an irregular shape and had a diameter of 24 m.

Now have a look at this satellite picture. It shows the location of the Glavica hill cemetery. 


You can see an isolated perfectly circular hill covered in oak forest. The bottom left is the fenced off area with the new cemetery and the chapel. 


This is the side view of the hill. You can see that it has flat calotte shape typical of tumulus hills. 


So the big question is: is Glavica hill a tumulus, which was, just like Gruda Boljevića, reused as the burial ground during medieval time?

Here is a picture of the graves near the summit of the hill with the holy oak and the altar:


Is it possible that all these graves are dug into the side of the tumulus?

Now if Glavica hill is a tumulus it is truly gigantic. Judging by the Google maps it is about 70 meters in diameter. Compare that with Gruda Boljevića which is only 24 meters in diameter.

And finally, if Glavica hill is a tumulus, what period does it date from? If it is from the Early Bronze Age, like all the other tumuluses I wrote about in my series about Montenegrian tumuluses, then we should expect a central cist grave with additional secondary Bronze and Iron Age burials dotting the hill hidden among the later Medieval ones. If however this tumulus is from the Late Bronze age, or Iron Age, then it could, potentially, hide a spectacular untouched huge burial chamber of someone very very important. 

But as I already said in my post about Glavica cemetery, there is no money or will or interest to do any additional excavation on the site. 

Maybe this post might spark some new interest. Hopefully by archaeologists and not treasure hunters...

I want to thank my friend Aleksandar Tešić for this picture of the Glavic hill and for the additional pictures of the actual graveyard inside the forest. 

Monday, 6 March 2017

Glavica cemetery


Holy oak grove covering Glavica (Head) hill in South Western Serbia hides a mysterious medieval Serbian cemetery. Thousands of huge stone monuments of unusual shapes cover the conical hill. They are all placed in circles around a huge ancient oak tree which grows on the hill's summit. Next to the oak trunk stands a stone altar table. 



People were buried in this necropolis between 12th and 18th century. Monuments are of various shapes and sizes and some are truly enormous. A lot of them are finely carved with religious (Christian or Pagan or Fusion???) images










The most unusual ones are the huge carved stone blocks in the form of fish, like this one. 


Similar fish shaped tombstones were also discovered in medieval Serbian cemetery in Mali Zvečan near Kosovska Mitrovica.

The cemetery is located at the very end of a fertile Deževo valley below the steep slopes of Mount Golija, near the village of Ljuljac. The valley is locally known as the "Valley of the kings" because it once was the location of the court of the Serbian Nemanjić family. 


The only reason this cemetery has remained intact and undisturbed by the treasure hunters is the fear of disturbing the holy ground protected by the holy oak forest and the ancient holy oak in its center. The hill is considered a taboo place by the local villagers. 

Unfortunately there is no money, or interest, for any further archaeological investigation of the site. 

Sunday, 26 February 2017

Peat

There is one thing that I always wondered about fulachta fiadh: why were so many of them built in waterlogged acidic soil, near peat bogs? According to professor Aidan O'Sullivan "fulachta are often found in waterlogged soils by lakes, streams, fens, etc and often close to the edge of a bog. At Killoran fulachta were overwhelmingly located in glacial till at the edges of the bogs". However according to many other sources, there are actually quite a few fulactha which were set in bogs. For instance a lot of the c.80 burnt mounds on Clare Island seem to be set on bog. 

Every single potential use of fulachta fiadh I have discussed so far would not have been possible if the fulacht fiadh trough was cut into a waterlogged acidic soil. Unless the trough was made absolutely watertight. Which most of them weren't. Here are two examples. Look at the gaps between the planks in the first one. And the second one is made from roundwood, impossible to make watertight.



Any hole dug in an waterlogged acidic soil would soon fill with acidic water. If the pit was dug in the peat draining area at the edge of the bog, it would soon fill with peat draining water. Whatever the source of the acidic water, the acid in the water would prevent acorns from leaching, would make horrible tasting beer, would make salt extraction through evaporation impossible... 

So why were so many fulachta fiadh built in waterlogged acidic soils and on the edges of bogs? To answer that question we need to understand what peat bogs are.


Bogs are rain fed (ombrotrophic). They need poorly-drained areas, a climate where precipitation exceeds evaporation, and a nutrient-poor environment that favors peat mosses in their ecologic competition against higher plants. Growth of higher plants is also curbed by peat mosses themselves because they bind available nutrients and render the bog water acidic. The acidity comes from the so called low-molecular-weight organic acids (LMWOAs): Formic, acetic, pyruvic, oxalic, malonic, and succinic acids. The amount of these acids in bog water is so high that the pH of bog water is 3-4. This is really acidic indeed. If this bog water is then exposed to the sunshine, it will get even more acidic. 

The article "Photoformation of low-molecular-weight organic acids from brown water dissolved organic matter" by Brinkmann T1, Hörsch P, Sartorius D, Frimmel FH we read:

"This work describes the effects of simulated solar UV light on the bulk properties of dissolved organic matter (DOM) of bog lake water and on the formation of low-molecular-weight organic acids (LMWOAs). By means of size-exclusion chromatography it was shown that the more hydrophilic moieties of the DOM were preferentially photodegraded while the more hydrophobic ones remained relatively unaffected or were even formed. The combined photochemical-biological degradation proved to be more important than the pure photochemical mineralization. Formic, acetic, pyruvic, oxalic, malonic, and succinic acids were identified as important degradation products. Their contribution to the dissolved organic carbon increased from 0.31% before to 6.4% after 24 h irradiation. About 33% of the bioavailable photoproducts of DOM were comprised of these LMWOAs."

Translated into plain English, solar radiation will degrade organic matter found in bog water and form more low-molecular-weight organic acids (LMWOAs), making the bog water even more acidic. How much more acidic? Not sure what the final pH of the bog water exposed to the sunshine is. But it is definitely low enough to serve as a very good pickling solution. 

Pickling is the process of preserving or expanding the lifespan of food by immersing in pickling brine (salty and acidic liquid). If the food contains sufficient moisture, a pickling brine may be produced simply by adding dry salt which draws water out of the food creating salty liquid. Natural fermentation at room temperature, by lactic acid bacteria, produces the required acidity creating salty and acidic liquid - pickling brine. If the food does not contain sufficient moisture, pickling can also be achieved by immersion of food in some salty acidic liquid, such as mixture of salty water and vinegar. If you want your pickling to be successful, the pH of the pickling brine has to be 4.6 or lower, which is sufficient to kill most bacteria.  The pickling procedure will typically affect both food's texture and flavor but it will preserve otherwise easily perishable food for months or longer. Foods that can be pickled include meats, fruits, eggs, vegetables and milk products like cheese.

Now bog water has a pH of 3-4 before solar irradiation. Well below the required acidity of pickling solutions. For those who don't know much about pH scale, here is a quick overview. The pH scale measures how acidic or basic a substance is. The pH scale ranges from 0 to 14. A pH of 7 is neutral. A pH less than 7 is acidic and more than 7 is caustic. The scale is not linear but logarithmic. This means that liquid with pH 3 is 10 time more acidic than the liquid with pH 4...

So bog water is 10 time more acidic than what is at minimum required from a pickling solution in order to kill all the harmful bacteria in the food. 

Yes but what does pickling has to do with bog water? Who would use bog water for pickling? Well as it turns out a lot of people. And some of them could have been the Bronze Age Irish builders of fulachta fiadh

As I already said in my post "Fulacht fiadh - meat and fish curing facility", the ancient Irish probably used both salt and smoke curing of meat and fish as a means of preserving it long term. But there is another way Ancient Irish could have preserved food long term without need for salting or smoking. 

They could have buried it into the peat bog.  

This is bog butter:


"Bog butter" refers to an ancient waxy substance found buried in peat bogs, particularly in Great Britain and in Ireland. 

In the article entitled "Mysteries of bog butter uncovered" published in the magazine Nature in 2004, we can read that the research by Richard Evershed and his colleagues from the University of Bristol has proven that what is commonly known as the 'bog butter' is the remains of both dairy products and meat encased in the peat.

"Those who live in the countryside of Ireland and Scotland and dig up chunks of peat for fuel have long been familiar with bog butter. While gathering the compressed plant matter, which can be burned in fires, diggers occasionally slice into a white substance with the appearance and texture of paraffin wax. This is thought to be the remains of food once buried in the bog to preserve it. Waterlogged peat is cool and contains very little oxygen, so it can be used as a primitive kind of fridge. The question is what type of food was buried in the peat. Local lore sometimes says that the waxy stuff is literally the remains of butter. For example, the seventeenth-century English writer Samuel Butler remarked in one of his famous poems that butter in Ireland "was seven years buried in a bog". But there could be an alternative source for the waxy material: dead animals. In the eighteenth century, French chemists discovered that human corpses often contain adipocere, a substance also known as 'grave-wax'. So bog butter could be the remains of carcasses rather than dairy products.

To find out, Evershed and his colleagues took a close look at the fatty acids in bog butter. The chains of hydrocarbons in these molecules differ between those derived from dairy and those from meat. They looked at nine samples of bog butter provided by the National Museum of Scotland, some of which are 2000 years old. They reported that six of the bog butter samples come from dairy products, and three are from animal fat (carcasses). So ancient Scots (read here Irish as the term Scot actually means Irish) clearly used the peat to store both types of food."

In the article "Underwater storage techniques preserved meat for early hunters" by Sally Pobojewski we can read about the experiments performed by Daniel C. Fisher, professor of geological and biological sciences at the University of Michigan and the curator of the Museum of Paleontology, who proved that burying meat in the peat bog will perfectly preserve it for two years.  

"From autumn to mid-winter of 1989, Fisher anchored legs of lamb and venison on the bottom of a shallow, open-peat water pond and buried other meat sections in a nearby peat bog. Caches were left in place for up to two years and checked periodically for decomposition. The meat remained essentially fresh for most of the first winter. By spring, progressive discoloration had developed on the outside, but interior tissue looked and smelled reasonably fresh. The combination of cold water temperature and increased acidity in the meat produced by pond bacteria called lactobacilli, which can survive without oxygen, made the meat unpalatable to other bacteria that normally decompose dead tissue, according to Fisher. Laboratory analyses of meat retrieved from the pond and bog in April 1992 showed no significant pathogens and bacterial counts were comparable to levels found in control samples Fisher stored in his home freezer."

So our hunters from the fianna hunting teams could have used the same technique to preserve the meat for the winter. They would bring the animals they have killed to their camp. They would take whatever they wanted to eat on the day, probably internal organs, head and such bits as they are the most perishable. They would cook this as a stew in a pot (not in fulacht fiadh trough :) ). They would maybe even roast some of the animals on a spit over a cooking pit (cooking procedure described in the Irish histories as "cooking using fulacht fiadh"). They would then cut the animal into manageable bits and would place these bits in deep peat bog pits full of acidic peat water, located at the edge of the camp. Or they would bury the meat pieces in deep peat trenches. The meat could then be taken out of the peat storage when needed and either salted and smoked or cooked or sold. 

Professor Fisher suggests that: "Underwater caching turns out to be a simple and effective way to store meat for long periods. Fossils preserved at ancient cache sites suggest it was an important and common part of the winter-to-spring subsistence strategy of Ice Age hunters". 

And we know from the archaeological evidence that this way of preserving meat and fat was as common in Ancient Ireland and Scotland too. 

This article "Carbohydrate polymers in food preservation: an integrated view of the Maillard reaction with special reference to discoveries of preserved foods in Sphagnum-dominated peat bogs" explores possible use of peat in modern food preservation. It mentions that so far "...biodegradable materials that have been found preserved in peat, including carcasses of domestic animals, loaves of bread, dried fruits, berries, and kegs of butter or cheese..."

The article entitled "Peat moss, an old Viking standby, could revolutionize the food-storage industry" says that" Researchers are looking at an old Viking trick--peat moss--as a way of preserving foods and saving millions of dollars per year in refrigeration and transport costs. 

"Scandinavian freshwater fishermen traditionally used peat bogs to preserve their catches until they could pick them up on their way out of the mountains. Fish buried in peat moss or treated with a moss extract stayed fresh weeks longer than untreated fish. And we all know how perishable fish is. 

Dr. Terence Painter, professor emeritus at Norwegian University of Science and Technology in Trondheim who researched preservative abilities of peat says that it can be used for long term preservation of highly perishable food stufs. And they have proven that it is not a lack of oxygen or the presence of a chemical called tannin acting as a preservative which is preventing decay.

Painter and his associates, Yngve Boersheim and Bjoern Christensen, isolated a complex sugar in sphagnum moss, which forms peat bogs after hundreds of years. They set out to prove that the sugar, which they have named sphagnum, was the real preservative in a variety of tests in a government-funded study.

In other tests, the researchers treated 3/4-inch-long zebra fish with peat or extract and left others untreated. After two weeks, the treated fish were fine, while the untreated ones had virtually vanished due to decay.

In a demonstration for the Norwegian state radio network NRK, Christensen opened a plastic container in which a zebra fish had been stored on peat for two years. It was intact and smelled fine. This is incredible considering that fish will start smelling in 2 days unless it was frozen straight after it was caught. 

Fish isn't the only food that may be preserved. Painter said his team has had success with apples, carrots, radishes and other vegetables. Norwegians had a tradition of storing their root plants, such as carrots and turnips, in peat bogs to preserve them.

The researchers have received a Norwegian government grant to start a pilot project testing commercial applications. Painter said it is not clear when the first commercial uses could begin."

This is very very interesting. As I already wrote in my post "Fulacht fiadh - a cooking pit?":

"The cooking hypothesis is rendered even less convincing by the near absolute lack of animal bone or plant material within the troughs. Proponents of this hypothesis have argued that the lack of animal material is likely due to preferential decay associated with elevated soil acidity, which is a key feature of burnt mound sites, of which many are located on marshy uplands..."  

Now in these marshy areas a pit dug into the ground would quickly fill with water. Acidic marshy water. If the pit is dug at the edge of the peat bog, the water would also contain peat water draining from the bog. If your fulacht is located near the bog but not in the bog drain area, you can dig a hole in the bog, get bog water from it and transfer it using pots. Or you can dig some wet peat, and dissolve it in already acidic marshy water filling your fulacth trough. The resulting peat water is exactly what you need for preserving meat and fish. All you would need to do to preserve your meat or fish would be to dunk it into the pit full of peat water and keep doing this until the pit is almost full. 

You could even salt the meat and fish first before you dunk it into the pit, but you don't have to. Once you fill the pit, you would then put some logs on top of it all to press the pit content down so that it stays submerged. You would then cover the pit with planks or thick branches (roundwood) and then with a thick layer of peat to thermally insulate it and that's about it. O yes, you would also need to mark the spot where the pit is, so that you don't accidentally step into it. :)


Once the meat and fish was removed from the pit, there would be no trace left of it to be found by archaeologists today. Except if the meat and fish was for whatever reason forgotten and never taken out. In which case, today, 3000 years later, archaeologists would just find a lump of "bog butter"...

This means that the location of many fulachta fiadh in marshy waterlogged areas near bogs suddenly begins to make sense. Was one of the reason why the hunting camps of the fianna were located near peat bogs because peat bogs were natural meat storage facilities, where large amount of meat from fish and animals killed during the summer hunting season could have been stored and preserved until it was needed later in the year? I believe so. 

But fulachta fiadh which were built in waterlogged acidic soils near peat bogs were not just used for food preservation. The animals, both terrestrial animals and fish, whose meat was preserved in bog water also had skins and they needed to be preserved to. As I already wrote in my post "Fulacht fiadh - tannery", the Bronze Age hunters had several ways of preserving the animal skins and turning them into leather or pelts: vegetable tanning, brain tanning, urine tanning and bran (flour) and salt tanning. All these tanning methods are more or less well known. But there is another tanning method that Fianna could have used, which is almost completely forgotten. 

Peat tanning. 

While I was researching animal skin tanning I came across acid tanning, or picklingNow acid tanning is not really the best description of this procedure. It should more precisely be called bran (flour), salt and acid tanning. It is basically the same procedure as wet bran (flour) and salt tanning used in Serbia except that additional acid is added to the tanning solution. You can read about the bran (flour) salt tanning in my post "Fulacht fiadh - tannery". Acid tanning is a very fast way to tan animal skins and uses the same principal used in pickling vegetables. Skin is immersed into strong pickle (salty acidic liquid) which kills all bacteria in the skin and also dissolves all non structural proteins and fats in the skin making the skin thinner and easier to work with. 

Here is a short summary of the acid tanning procedure which you can find online on many websites. I will use it to explain how a fulacht fiadh could have been used for this type of tanning. 

According to the most acid tanning instructions, the chemicals required for acid pickling are:

27 liters water
1 kilo bran flakes
1 kilo of plain or pickling salt (not iodized)
0.45 liters of battery acid (from auto parts store)
1 kilo of baking soda

This is a very good video showing how to do acid tanning using battery acid. Any strong acid can be used for skin tanning but battery acid seems to be most popular.

If your fulacht fiadh trough has volume of 150 liters, you would need 5,5 kilos of bran, 5,5 kilos of salt, 5,5 kilos of wood ash and 150 liters of acidic bog water.

Procedure:

"Make sure the skins were fleshed, membraned and salted immediately after the animals were skinned. If the skin was dried for temporary storage, soak the dried skins in clear, fresh water until flexible. "

The streams near which most of the fulachta fiadh were built come handy here. 

"Boil 12 liters of water and pour over one kilo of bran flakes. Let this sit for an hour, then strain the bran flakes out, saving the brownish water solution." 

Bran doesn't really need to be taken out of the solution for it to work. You will just have to later get all the bits out of the fur. So here is how you could achieve this part of the procedure in fulacht fiadh. Let the fulacht fiadh trough fill with fresh bog water, or marshy acidic water into which you have added some wet peat to increase acidity. Leave it to sit exposed to the sun for a day, maybe two. Then boil the water using fire heated stones. Once the water was boiled add bran to it and stir it for a while, and then leave it sit for an hour. 

"Next, bring the remaining four gallons of water to a boil. Put the 16 cups of salt in a plastic trash can. Pour the water over the salt and use the stirring stick to mix until the salt dissolves. Add the brown bran liquid. Stir."

Add more hot stones to the trough until it boils again. Then add salt and mix well so that the salt is all dissolved. 

"When this solution is lukewarm, you are ready to add the battery acid. Read the warning label and first aid advice on the battery acid container. While wearing gloves and an old, long-sleeved shirt, very carefully pour the battery acid down the inside of the trash can into the solution — don't let it splash. Stir the battery acid in thoroughly."

This part can be skipped. We have started with the acidic bog water, which should by now be even more acidic because of the solar radiation and the work of lactic bacteria which is busily decomposing bran and organic matter from the peat and adding lactic acid to the mix. 

"Add the skins to the solution and stir, pressing the skins down carefully under the liquid with the stirring stick until the skins are fully saturated."

Well, get your skins from the stream. They should be nice and plump now. Squeeze the water out of them and then dunk them into the fulacht fiadh trough. 

"Leave the skins to soak for 40 minutes, stirring from time to time to make sure all parts of the skins are exposed to the solution."

I have found recommendations that go from 40 minutes (most common) to 20 days but mostly the duration of pickling is less than an hour. The time it takes to thoroughly pickle the skin will vary depending on the thickness of the skin. You can tell it is completely pickled when the skin is a milky white color all the way through, with no pink color. It is very difficult to say how long it would take to pickle skins in fulacht fiadh trough using bog water as acid solution. But we can try to guess. As I already said, the tanning solution used in the so called "acid tanning", and which we have created in the fulacht fiadh trough, is basically the same solution used in wet bran (flour) and salt tanning in Serbia, with additional acid added to it. Considering that in Serbian wet bran (flour) and salt tanning procedure the skins are left in tanning solution for 3 days, I would say that the time we need to leave skins in the fulacht fiadh trough for anywhere between one hour and 3 days. We should stir the the skins from time to time to make sure all parts of the skins are exposed to the solution. We should also examine the skins from time to time and check if they were white all the way through. 

"Fill your other trash can with clear, lukewarm water. After the soaking is complete. Use the stirring stick to carefully move the skins one by one into the trash can with clear warer. This is the rinsing process, which removes the excess salt from the skins. Stir and slosh the skins for about five minutes, changing the water when it looks dirty."

Take the skins out of the fulacht fiadh trough. Take them to the stream and wash them thoroughly until the water coming out of them is clear. 

"At this point, some people add a box of baking soda to the rinse water. Adding baking soda will neutralize some of the acid in the skin - this is good because there will be less possibility of residual acid in the fur to affect sensitive people. However, this also may cause the preserving effects of the acid to be neutralized. You need to make the choice to use baking soda based on your own end use of the skin. If skin or fur will spend a lot of time in contact with human skin, use the baking soda. If the pelt will be used as a rug or wall hanging, you are probably ok not to use baking soda.

If you decide to use baking soda, place the hide in the neutralizing solution, and stir for 20 minutes. Remove the hide from the neutralizing solution, rinse, and drain."

If you want to wear the skins you are treating or use them as bed covers, you should probably neutralize the acid in them. This is how to do it. You can't use fulacht fiadh trough for this, as it will fill with acidic bog water as soon as you empty it. You will have to use either large pots, like large funerary pots, or you will have to take the skins to another fulacht fiadh which is built in a dry well drained soil and use the trough there, Whatever you decide to do, you will need to use something in place of baking soda, as it was not readily available in Bronze Age Ireland. Baking soda is Alkali. In chemistry, an alkali is a basic, ionic salt of an alkali metal or alkaline earth metal chemical element. An alkali also can be defined as a base that dissolves in water. A solution of a soluble base has a pH greater than 7.0. Now when you mix acid (pH < 1) and alkali (pH > 7) you get salts and neutral pH. So where do we find an alkali that can be used instead of baking soda, and that we can use to neutralize acid in the skins we have just pickled?

The word "alkali" is derived from Arabic "al qalīy" (or alkali), meaning the wood ashes, referring to the original source of alkaline substances. A water-extract of burned plant ashes, called potash and composed mostly of potassium carbonate, is mildly basic. After heating this substance with calcium hydroxide (slaked lime), a far more strongly basic substance known as caustic potash (potassium hydroxide) can be produced. But for de-acidifying our skins, we need ordinary weak base - potash. So grab few handfuls of wood ash from your fireplace and chuck it into the pot or fulacht fiadh trough full of clear water. How much will depend on volume of your vessel. For a 150 liters trough you will need 1 kilo of ash. The major components of wood ashes are potassium carbonate (potash) and sodium carbonate (soda ash), and their average pH is about 9,5 while the pH of baking soda is 9.  Mix the solution. Submerge your skins in and leave them soaking for not more than 20 minutes. If you leave your skins in the potash solution for too long, the hair will start slipping (falling off), which is exactly what potash is used for in bucking, as I already described in my post "Fulacht fiadh - tannery".

"Remove the hide from the rinse and hang over a beam to drain. Rub it with some oil, like neatsfoot oil, salmon oil, beechnut oil, to condition the skin."

Hmmm. I am not sure what kind of oils Bronze Age Irish had access to. Probably salmon oil and beechnut oil. So, get the skins out of the potash soulution, squeeze them and then leave them over a branch to drain. Get some oil and rub it into the skins.

"Stretch the hides on a stretcher or hide dryer to finish the process. Place it in a place out of the sun to dry. After a few days the hide should feel dry and flexible. Take it down from the rack and go over the skin side with a wire brush until it has a suede-like appearance. Let the hide finish drying until it is fully dry, which should take a few more days."

This is exactly the same drying procedure used in Serbian wet bran (flour) and salt tanning procedure. Get the skins onto a rack and place them in a shade to dry. Keep an eye on them so that they don't get chewed on by wolves and such things....Take them off when they are dry and that's it...

Now here is the problem with using bog water for this type of tanning. 

The recommendation that I found online is that no matter what acid you use, after mixing the pickle up, the pH level should read below a 2.0. Usually it reads 1.1. You should not let the pH go above 2.5 during pickling, and definitely not above 3.0, because then bacteria will continue to grow. Is our day old bran fortified peat water acidic enough? I have no idea. But as I already said, the tanning solution used in the so called "acid tanning", and which we have created in the fulacht fiadh trough, is basically the same solution used in wet bran (flour) and salt tanning in Serbia, with additional acid added to it. So if bran (wheat) and salt solution is enough to pickle the skins, I would guess that adding highly acidic bog water, which is more acidic than normal vegetable pickle solutions, should make the process even more effective. We know that the pH of the bog water is between 3-4 and that it increases when exposed to sunlight. Is it possible that the final solution has pH below 2,5? Possibly. Whatever the final pH of bog water is, we know that bog water can be used for skin and hair pickling and turning of row skins into pelts and leather. 

The proof are bog bodies.

bog body is a human cadaver that has been naturally mummified in a peat bog. Unlike most ancient human remains, bog bodies have retained their skin and internal organs due to the unusual conditions of the surrounding area. These conditions include highly acidic water, low temperature, and a lack of oxygen, and combine to preserve but severely tan their skin. While the skin is well-preserved, the bones are generally not, due to the acid in the peat having dissolved the calcium phosphate of bone.

The oldest fleshed bog body is that of the so called "Cashel Man", who dates to 2000 BCE during the Bronze Age.


The best preserved bog bodies in Ireland are:

Clonycavan Man, an iron age bog body dated to 392-201 BC


Oldcroghan Man, an iron age bogman dated to 362-175 BC


The best preserved fleshed bog body is that of the so called "Tollund Man". Tollund Man is a naturally mummified corpse of a man who lived during the 4th century BC.




Now some people will say: "Well these are preserved because they have been kept inside the bogs in anaerobic acidic conditions for thousands of years...The conversion of skin to leather took a long time....This was not a practical procedure which could be used for tanning animal skins..."

Well I am not surprised that you might say that. I had the same doubts myself. But then I came across this. 


Tanbark is the bark of certain species of trees (such as oak) which has high tannin content. It is traditionally used for tanning hides into leather. In some areas of the United States, such as northern California, tanbark is often called "mulch," even by manufacturers and distributors. In these areas, the word "mulch" may refer to peat moss or to very fine tanbark.

Why?

In "A Dictionary of Science" edited by William Thomas Brande and published 1842 we can read that "attempts have been made to separate astringent matter from peat and to use it in tanning leather". 

So it seems that people in the 19th century believed that peat water could be used for tanning leather. Why did they think that? Well because peasants living near bogs have been using bog water for tanning leather for millennia. 

One place where we have records of the use of peat tanning is Strathearn in Scotland.  The Strathearn area of Perthshire lies near the centre of mainland Scotland where Lowlands meet Highlands. It includes the towns and villages of Auchterarder, Blackford, Braco, Bridge of Earn, Comrie, Crieff, Lochearnhead, Muthill & St Fillans. On the blog "PerthshireCrieffStrathearn Local History" in the article "The Rise and Demise of the Leather Tanning Industry in Crieff & Strathearn in the 18th and 19th Centuries" we read this:

"Tanning in the Strathearn  area had been carried out for many years and was known as  “peat moss tanning" . The hides were immersed in a peat hole and left to allow the tannin from the peat to seep into them thus producing a primitive sort of leather. This method began to die out towards the end of the 18th century. The hides would get as tough as a wooden board. Later the shoe maker would come and heat the leather over a fire while rubbing grease into it till it was flexible and make brogues for the family."

This is very interesting don't you think. Well a certain Ernest Edward Munro Payne certainly though soThere a US Patent US1040400 A granted on Oct 8, 1912 to Ernest Edward Munro Payne which describes use of peat water in leather tanning. 

"Be it known that I, ERNEST EDWARD Monro PAYNE, a subject of the King of England, and residing at Aylesbury, in the county of Buckingham, England, have invented certain new and useful improvements in the production of leather, of which the following is a specification. The characteristic feature of this invention is the use, in the production of leather, of a solution of humus (peat) which consists of humic acid, ulmic acid. According to this invention, in producing leather from skin, the skin is prepared as for tannin and is thereafter treated with a solution of humus in alkali (wood ash) and with an acid."

In "The Natural and Agricultural History of Peat-moss Or Turf-bog" by Andrew Steele we can see that originally people believed that the tanning ability of bog water came from tannins from trees which were disolved in the bog water:


Water flowing out of bogs has a characteristic brown color from dissolved peat tannins. However the active tanning ingredient in peat is not tannic acid which indeed is found in most plants, but ulmic, humic and crenic acids. However these acids have the same effect on the skin as tannic acid. 

On top of this, because  peat consists of bits of the plant called sphagnum moss, commonly known as peat moss, it has some additional characteristics which even more increase its tanning ability.

In the book "The Scientific Study of Mummies" by Arthur C. Aufderheide, we can read this chapter about how sphagnum creates tanning effect in peat moss:


So what does science have to say about the ability of peat water to tan skins into leather? Well some scientists are still pondering:


"Three types of humic acids of different sources have been analysed in order to quantify the functional groups that may be liable to react with the proteins of leather. The quantification serves to determine the extent to which each of these acids can be used as tanning or retanning agents. Humic acids have structures similar to those of vegetable tannins."

Translated into English this means that humic acid found in bog water could have the same or very similar effect on skin turning it into leather, just like tannic acid found in plants. 

But some other scientists have confirmed that skin submerged into bog water "becomes bio-resistant" basically turns into leather...


"Films of mackerel (Scomber scombrus) skin became brown and completely bio-resistant after repeated immersion in aqueous (3% w/v) sphagnan with intermittent drying. Differential thermal analysis (DSC) of the sphagnan-treated skin gave results consistent with tanning by covalent cross-linking."

Sooooo....

We have evidence that until recently people actually used bogs deliberately to preserve food and skin. Even patents were proposed for commercial, industrial use of this technology. 

This sheds a new light on the bog bodies and bog butter... 

What I am trying to say is that people could have deliberately placed food and bodies into bogs to preserve them... To make a miracle preservation pit, you don't need a fulacht trough. All you need is a pit, a hole in the bog, which will fill with bog water. And if you want to use fulacht which is not located in the bog proper, but in the waterlogged marshy area near the peat bog, just dig some wet peat, dunk it into the trough which is already filled with acidic water and mix....

Is this why some fulachta fiadh were originally built in waterlogged acidic soils near bogs? I believe so...