Monthly Archives: February 2017


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 pickling. Now 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.
“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.
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 so. There 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.
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…


English word “history” means “the aggregate of past events”. What does this “aggregate of past events” actually mean? It basically means a story about what happened….

This is famous gusle player and epic poems singer Rajko Ivković. Born in 1880, in the village Gradovi on mountain Rudnik in Serbia. Survived 3 wars. Had many stories to tell. 

According to the official etymology the word “history” comes from Middle English, from Old French “estoire, estorie” ‎which means “chronicle, history, story”, from Latin “historia” which means “account, story”, from Ancient Greek “ἱστορία” ‎(historía) which means “learning through research, narration of what is learned”, from “ἱστορέω” ‎(historéō) which means “to learn through research, to inquire”, from “ἵστωρ” ‎(hístōr) which means “the one who knows, the expert”. Proposed PIE root is “*widstōr” ‎which is supposed to mean “knower, wise man”, from Proto-Indo-European “*weyd-” meaning “‎to see”.

Now how does one become an expert? By doing something for a long time and building the knowledge through experience. 

“*widstōr” ‎is supposed to mean “knower, wise man”…But “widstōr” literally means “someone who has seen a lot”…

A wise man is man with long experience. An old man usually. A man with life long experience. Who has seen a lot in his life and has learned a lot from what he has seen. He had to. He survived to tell tale…

In Slavic languages the word “vid” means to see. 
In Slavic languages the word “ved, dialectic vid” means to tell, story, knowledge, expertise.  

In Slavic languages we have another word “star”. According to the official etymology this word comes from Proto Slavic “*starъ” (star) which means old. Now proposed further root is Proto-Balto-Slavic “*staʔros” meaning old, from PIE “*steh₂-ro-” from “*stati” meaning to remain, to stay, to survive…Which is what old (star) people are good at doing. They are good at surviving. This is how they got to be old. 

So you find a wise old man (vid star) and listen to his stories. And hopefully you will learn something from them which will help you to one day become a wise old man who will have a lot of stories to tell. 

Now how do you know who is a wise old man? Basically in the past, any old man was a wise old man. 

In Slavic languages we have a word “je” which means “is”. According to the official etymology this word is a shortened from “jȅst” meaning “to be”. The official etymology then goes to say that this Slavic root comes from Proto-Slavic “*estь” which means “to be”, from PIE “*h₁es-” which means “to be”. 

Now in South Slavic languages the word “je” means “is” but also “it is”. As “it is” the word “je” is short of “jes” (pronounced yes) meaning “it is”. So the word “jest” comes from “je(s)” + “to” = “(it) is” + “that” and means “to be”. You can see that the root is the word “je(s)” meaning “is”, “it is”. 


If you are looking for an old man, you would look for someone who “is old”, which in Slavic languages would be “je star”…

Now let’s look again at the Ancient Greek root of the word “history”: “ἵστωρ” ‎(hístōr) which means “the one who knows, the expert”. Looks suspiciously like “jestar” = “je star” = “is old” = “wise”. 

Now let’s look again at the Ancient Greek word derived from this ancient “root”: “ἱστορέω” ‎(historéō) which means “to learn through research, to inquire”. After a lot of research, inquiring, you eventually, if you have learned anything, get old. In Slavic languages “got old” is “je ostario”…

If the old man was unlucky enough to live during the “heroic” times of war, but was lucky enough to survive the war and come home as a victor, he would have had a lot of interesting “heroic” stories to tell. These stories about heroic deeds, which returning heroes would tell to their compatriots were eventually turned into heroic poems or stories by bards, who then passed them on from generation to generation. Until eventually one day someone wrote down these heroic poems or stories and they became histories, the stories of old told by those who survived long enough to become old, to become “ἵστωρ” “jestar”, the wise old man…


“On the First day of Christmas my true love sent to me
a Partridge in a Pear Tree.

On the Second day of Christmas my true love sent to me
Two Turtle Doves
and a Partridge in a Pear Tree.

On the Third day of Christmas my true love sent to me
Three French Hens,
Two Turtle Doves
and a Partridge in a Pear Tree.


This is the beginning of the well known English Christmas carol “The Twelve Days of Christmas“. 

It enumerates in the manner of a cumulative song a series of increasingly grand gifts given on each of the twelve days of Christmas, starting with a partridge which was given on the first day. The song, published in England in 1780 without music as a chant or rhyme, is thought to be French in origin, but really no one knows where the song comes from. 

There are those who believe that the song has a hidden Christian meaning. 

According to Ann Ball in her book, HANDBOOK OF CATHOLIC SACRAMENTALS:

“The “True Love” is Jesus Christ, because truly Love was born on Christmas Day. 

The partridge in the pear tree also represents Him because that bird is willing to sacrifice its life if necessary to protect its young by feigning injury to draw away predators.
The two turtle doves were the Old and New Testaments
The three French hens stood for faith, hope, and love.
The four calling birds were the four gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.
The five golden rings rerepresented the first five books of the Old Testament, which describe man’s fall into sin and the great love of God in sending a Savior.
The six geese a-laying stood for the six days of creation.
Seven swans a-swimming represented the sevenfold gifts of the Holy Spirit—–Prophesy, Serving, Teaching, Exhortation, Contribution, Leadership, and Mercy.
The eight maids a-milking were the eight beatitudes.
Nine ladies dancing were the nine fruits of the Holy Spirit—–Charity, Joy, Peace, Patience [Forbearance], Goodness [Kindness], Mildness, Fidelity, Modesty, Continency [Chastity].
The ten lords a-leaping were the Ten Commandments.
The eleven pipers piping stood for the eleven faithful Apostles.
The twelve drummers drumming symbolized the twelve points of belief in The Apostles’ Creed.”


But, there is another possible origin and meaning of this song. The song could originate in an ancient Pre-Christian system of beliefs and could be linked to fertility rituals related to both female and earth fertility. 

And the key for understanding this other possible (and I believe true) meaning of this song lies in the first verse:

“On the First day of Christmas my true love sent to me a Partridge in a Pear Tree”

Here it goes:

The grey partridge is a native, non migratory bird of Eurasian shrub lands, grass lands and cultivated areas. The adult is a plump bird. The upper parts are chestnut-brown and grey, but the color is very variable. The hind neck is grey-brown. The wings are mottled brown and darker brown.

Gray partridges begin the slow process of courtship in late winter, as soon as the snow starts to melt. Both sexes perform numerous dramatic displays, including circling, neck-stretching and running with head lowered. In March, the males in a covey begin crowing with their “rusty gate” call, to advertise their presence, especially in the morning and evening. Crowing then leads to ritualized fighting between the males, which fly and peck at each other. Eventually, one male leaves the area, and the victorious bird remains to try and attract a female. The actual mating happens in late April. The female then builds the nest while the male stands guard nearby. The nest is usually located in grasses in open country or along roadsides, fences, hedgerows, ditches and banks. Shortly after the nest is complete, at the beginning of May, the female starts laying eggs. She continues laying one egg per day until her clutch of 9-20 olive-colored eggs is complete. This is one of the largest known clutches produced by any bird.

The partridge mating habits didn’t stay unnoticed by our ancestors. At least in the Balkans. The word for partridge in South Slavic languages is “jarebica” pronounced yarebitsa. The word has no known etymology. I would like to propose one:

In South Slavic languages we have these two interesting words: 

The word “jar” means “green, spring, youth, fire, heat, rage”. 
The word “jeb” means “to fuck”.

jarbica = jar + jebica = spring, fiery, hot, passionate + fuck 🙂 

In South Slavic languages nouns have genders. The word “jarebica” is a feminine noun meaning that Slavs attributed feminine characteristics to partridge. So the meaning of the word “jarebica” is actually “young, hot (female) you fuck”.

I think that this is quite a fitting name for a bird whose loud passionate mating covers the whole of spring. 

There is someone else who goes through the same passionate courtship ritual at the same time as partridge. Young earth Vesna. She is born on the 4th of February, the first day of spring. She gets more and more beautiful as the spring progresses. During this time she is courted by the young sun Jarilo, her twin brother. Their courtship during the spring is nothing else but “jarjeb” meaning “youthful fucking”, the “union” of the young sky (the father) and young earth (the mother). It is this union that produces all life and all the bounty of summer and autumn. 

Jarilo, the young sun, marries Vesna the young earth on 6th of May, the day of Jarilo. The day of Jarilo, the 6th of May, is the day which in old Celtic and Serbian calendar marked the beginning of Summer. This is old Beltane, the festival of fire. The fire of the sun. And this is exactly the time when partridge starts laying its eggs. Eggs which are the result of its mating season, of “jarjeb”. Eggs which are symbol of rebirth. The “rebirth” of nature after winter “death”. The rebirth which is the result of the “jarjeb” between Vesna and Jarilo.

Slavic god Jarilo is the young sun, the youthful face of Djed (Grandfather), Triglav (Three headed) Sky God. His name means the young one, the fiery one, the blazing one, the raging one. In his positive aspect, Jarilo was the symbol of youthful male sexual energy, male reproductive fire. In his negative aspect, Jarilo was the symbol of youthful male rage and senseless male destructive fire. This is why he was the Slavic god of spring, vegetation, fertility and war. 

Christianity replaced Jarilo with St George, and the day of Jarilo is still today celebrated as the St Georges day (Djurdjevdan or Jurjevo in the Balkans). 

South Slavic goddess Vesna is the young earth, the youthful face of Baba (Grandmother), Troglava (Three headed) Earth Goddess. Her name literally means Spring. She is the goddess of youth and female fertility and only has a positive aspect.

I believe that Partridge was in the Balkans associated with Jarilo’s bride, Vesna and was possibly even her holy bird. Here is why I believe that this is the case. 

This wedding song recorded in Poljci in Croatia describes the wedding feast. Here is just the beginning:

“Ja dovedo nevisticu pa joj dado večericu.
Prvu večer’ večerala Sitnu ticu jarebicu.
Drugu večer’ večerala:
Dva goluba, sitnu ticu prepelicu.
Treću večer’ večerala:
Tri grlice, dva goluba, sitnu ticu prepelicu.
Četvrtu večer večerala:
Četri patke, tri grlice, dva goluba, sitnu ticu prepelicu.
Petu večer večerala:
Pet gusaka, četri patke, tri grlice, dva goluba, sitnu ticuprepelicu. Šestu večer večerala:
Šest ovaca, pet gusaka, četri patke, tri grlice, dva goluba, sitnu ticu prepelicu…”

Here is the translation:

I brought my bride home and gave her dinner
First evening she ate partridge
Second evening she ate two pigeons and a quail
Third evening she ate three doves, two pigeons and a quail
Fouth evening she ate four ducks, three doves, two pigeons and a quail
Fifth evening she ate five gees, four ducks, three doves, two pigeons and a quail
Sixth evening she ate six sheep, five gees, four ducks, three doves, two pigeons and a quail…”

This is obviously a ritual song performed during a ritual feast. The marriage was supposed to result in many children as the wealth of the family was judged by the number of children and number of cattle they possessed. So this song ritually associates the fertility of Mother Earth with the fertility of the new bride. The fact that the bride eats partridge, the most fertile bird, first, is the sign that this song is part of a fertility ritual. Basically through this act, the fertility of partridge is supposed to be passed onto the bride. The fact that the bride then continues to eat all the children produced by the young Mother Earth shows the desire to pass the fertility of the young Mother Earth to the bride too. This is not surprising because woman’s fertility and the Mother Earth’s fertility is very strongly linked in Balkan Slavic belief system.

Another thing that shows that partridge was regarded as a symbol of fertility by the Balkan Slavs is the Croatian ceremonial wedding game called “traženje jarebice” (looking for partridge) which was first recorded in 17th century. The ritual was performed like this: 

When groom’s retinue arrived at the bride’s house to take her away, bride’s father would ask them who they were and what they came for. The leader of the groom’s party would answer that they were looking for a partridge. The bride’s father would then say that he hasn’t seen any partridge. The groom’s party would then insist on checking for themselves that the bride’s father was telling the truth. The bride’s father then let’s the groom’s party in. He then brings out the oldest woman in the house who is holding a sieve on her head and asks the groom’s party if that is the partridge they were looking for? When the groom’s party say that it wasn’t the bride is brought out and the groom’s party exclaim that it is her they were looking for…The groom’s party then takes the bride to the church to get married. 

You can see that this ritual is directly linked to fertility. The groom is looking for a fertile young wife, and this is what partridge represents. The fact that the old woman which was brought out firs hold a sieve on her head shows that she is Baba, the Mother Earth, the mother of grain…Again we see linking of woman’s fertility and the Mother Earth’s fertility.

The same custom is found in other parts of Croatia and Bosnia except that partridge is replaced with dove or a lamb, but the ritual is the same…


Akcija za sakupljanje gradje o folklornoj drami u XIX. stoljeću” by Nikola Bonifačić Rožin
Usmena narodna dramaturgija – vazna komponenta u Hrvatskoj dramskoj knjizevnosti” by Tvrtko Čubelić

Finally in “Годишњи обичаји у Пироту и околини” (Anual customs and rituals in Pirot and surrounding area), by Sofija Kostic, we find a Serbian ritual song which describes the ritual feast held during the celebration of St Mitar (Martin) (Mitrovdan), and which used to last for 7 days: 

Једну вечер вечерали: Једну тицу јаребицу, Мало вурду у паницу. Планино, зла рано! 

Седму вечер вечера’мо: седам вола бивола, шес овна јалова, четри гусће пердушће, два голуба пролетња, једну тицу јаребицу, мало вурду у паницу, планино, зла рано!

Here is the translation:
First evening we ate one partridge, cheese and bred. O mountain you evil mother (literally food giver)!
Seventh evening we ate seven bulls, six rams, four gees, two pigeons, one partridge, cheese and bred. O mountain you evil mother!

Again the first thing eaten on the first day of the feast is roasted Partridge. Mitrovdan was the day, which in the old Celtic and Serbian calendar marked the end of Summer and the beginning of winter. This is old Samhain. You can read more about this old calendar in my post “Two crosses“. If the mating season of partridge marks the beginning of hot part of the year, summer and autumn, the bountiful part of the year, it is symbolically fitting that the end of this period is marked by the death of partridge. He is roasted (death by fire and death of fire of the sun) and ritually eaten to represent the end of the harvest. 

What is also interesting is that the song then proceeds to cumulatively add the same birds and animals listed in the Croatian wedding song. This shows that both ritual songs come from the same belief system and are directly linked to fertility of the Mother Earth…

I believe that these customs show that Partridge was once regarded by South Slavs as the symbol of fertility. 

O and here is another proof: 

This is rock partridge (Alectoris graeca). 

This bird, native in southwestern Asia and southeastern Europe, including Balkans, is in South Slavic languages known as “kamenjarka” (stone, rock bird). Kamenjarka, which is also a feminine noun, is also a archaic slang word for a whore, “young, hot (female) you fuck”…

I have seen somewhere long time ago that in Celtic parts of Iberia, loose women are called partridge, but unfortunately I can’t remember where I saw this. If anyone has any info about this please let me know. Also if you know of any other folk belief system where partridge has the meaning linked to female promiscuity and fertility and with fertility of Mother Earth please let me know so that I can update my article. 

So there you have it. The true love the song originally talked about was far from spiritual love. It was physical, fruitful love, the love that produces offspring. And the symbol of that fruitful love was partridge. 

Also in Celtic and Serbian calendar, Samhain feast (held in the past by Baltic Serbs at the beginning of November) was the thanksgiving feast which people celebrated to thank their god for providing for them during the previous vegetative season. Listing all the animals people want to multiply, starting with partridge, the symbol of fertility, could be a kind of a magic spell, a way to symbolically ensure accumulation of riches…

But how old could this link between partridge and female fertility be? I believe very very old. I will talk about this in my next post. 

Fulacht fiadh – tannery

In my last post “Fulacht fiadh – meat and fish curing facility” i said that fulachta fiadh were also called Fulachta Fian and were believed to be the cooking place of the Fianna, small, semi-independent warrior bands in Irish mythology. I also said that Geoffrey Keating, in his 17th-century History of Ireland, says that during the winter the fianna were quartered and fed by the nobility, during which time they would keep order on their behalf, but during the summer, from Beltaine to Samhain, they were obliged to live by hunting for food and for pelts to sell.
As I said in my last post, this was very interesting. If Fianna were “obliged” to live by hunting for food and for pelts to sell, they were basically full time, professional meat and fur hunters. Professional seasonal hunters have two problems that they have to solve if they want to profit from their hunt: How to preserve and store meat and skins. 
In my last post I talked about how the ancient Irish could have solved the problem of preserving and storing large quantities of fish and meat. 
In this post I would like to talk about how they could have solved the other problem: how to preserve and store large amount of animal skins and furs they would have accumulated during their seasonal hunt. 
The process of preserving animal skins aims to make animal skins resistant to bacterial decomposition and weather. This process is quite complicated and consists of many steps which have to be performed correctly and in strict order or the skins will be spoiled. 
I will here list these steps, based on an instruction for deer skin preservation process from the Wilderness Institute web page. And I will explain how fulachta fiadh could have been used in this process. 
Hang the deer upside down to a branch. Cut the belly open and gut and clean the animal. Cut the around the hocks and then along the legs from the hocks to the beely cut. Put the knife away and removing the hide with a fist, not a knife. This is to prevent any knife or score marks on the hide. Score marks now will become holes later. This is a very good video showing how to skin a deer using this technique
Remove any meat and fat from the hide using scraper. You can use a metal scraper (a blunt long blade). Traditionaly a bone scraper made from a deer ulna bone was used
Salting is what sets the hair and keeps the hide from decaying. The moisture content of hides and skins is greatly reduced, and osmotic pressure increased, to the point that bacteria are unable to grow. There are two ways of salting the skins: wet salting and brining. 
But theoretically, all hides are brine cured. Crystalline sodium chloride, or common salt, cannot be absorbed by the hide. Only after the salt crystals have been dissolved in water to make a brine can the curing proceed. In the case of the conventional method (pack curing), the salt crystals draw moisture from the hide which dissolves the salt creating brine. 
In wet salting, the skins are heavily salted using fine salt by rubbing the salt into the inner side of the skin or hide. After salting, hides are rolled up and placed on an incline to allow fluids to drain away from the hide. After approximately 12 hours the skins are unrolled and all of the wet salt is shaken off. A new layer of fresh salt is applied to the skin as explained above. Skin is rolled again and left to rest for additional 12 hours. If after these 12 hours, the skin still appears excessively wet, the salting process is repeat again. If however the skin appears to be drying, with no more fluid draining from it, it can be hung up across a rack to finish drying for another 24 hours.
In the brine curing process, the hides are in contact with saturated brine at all times. This serves to reduce the time required to cure hides to about 16 hours. The hides have to be constantly turned and agitated to ensure that every part of the skin is properly soaked with brine.  
Both of these salting methods would involve use of fulacht fiadh. 
If wet salting was used, salt was probably grabbed from leather sacks or pots where it was kept and then applied to the skins by rubbing. The excess salt which was brushed off the skins at the end of each salting stage, could then have been collected and eventually purified and reclaimed through boiling in the trough using fire heated stones. 
If brining was used, brine was made in the trough. Different size skins require different size troughs to insure the skin was completely submerged and not tightly folded. This could account for great variety in fulacht fiadh trough size. At the end of the brining process the remaining salt could have been reclaimed from brine  through boiling in the trough using fire heated stones. 
This of course could only have been possible providing trough was made watertight. If not the brinning solution would either be diluted or chemically changed by influx of water from the soil, if the fulacht fiadh was located on marshy, waterlogged terrain, or the brine would disappear into the ground if the fulacht fiadh was located on dry well drained soil. 
At the end of the salting procedure, if the above steps were followed and completed carefully, the skin should be in a stable state. A stable state is when the skin can be safely left as it is for a period of time, even months, without fear of hair slippage or spoilage. This means that the process of preserving the skins can be interrupted at this point and continued at some later more suitable moment, like during the winter, after the end of the hunting season. 
It is quite possible that this was the end of the animal skin treatment process which was performed in summer camps. The skins would be salted and stored safely in a tent or in a wood lined pit dug in the well drained ground. They would then be carried to the village where the rest of the skin preservation process which turns skins into leather and pelts was carried away. 
There is one thing I have to add about salting. Salting is not a mandatory part of the animal skin preservation process. Salting is used in cases where there is a long enough period between the skinning and the rest of the skin processing. Bacteria in the skin will start decomposition pretty much straight away and even if only couple of hours have passes between skinning and the next processing stage you will be better off using salting to make sure the decomposition was stopped. But if you are going to flesh and wash the skin straight away after skinning, then salting is not necessary. You can basically just wash, stretch and dry the fleshed animal skins completely. You can then store these dry skins in a dry airy place for months until you decide to continue the skin preservation process. This is very important. As I already explained in my post “Fulacht fiadh – salt pan”, salt was a rare and valuable commodity in ancient Ireland and I doubt the Fianna hunters would use salt for treating animal skins unless it was absolutely necessary. 
Now next stage in animal skin preservation depends on whether you want to produce leather (hareless skin) or pelts (hairy, furry skin).  If you want to produce leather, then the next thing you need to do is bucking followed by rinsing, graining and membraning and then rinsing again.
“Bucking” is the soaking process in the solution of lime or lye (wood ashes) the hide is soaked in to remove the mucus in the collagen layer of the hide, as well as to loosen the hairs. It’s the mucus that prevents the tanning medium from adhering to the fibers in the hide. You have to make sure that the bucking solution is not “too strong” which is possible with hardwood ashes, especially with ashes from woods such as oak and maple (the hard, dense woods). A good way to test how strong an ash solution is: float an egg, it should have a thumb nail sized portion floating above the solution (it has to actually float, not sit on top of the settled ashes); barely floating means a weak solution, tipping over means a strong solution.  
So mix wood ash into the water, float an egg to determine proper concentration of hard wood ash, then soak hide until hair slips. The skin should soak until the hair pulls free easily. If the water is about 20 degrees Celsius it should slip in about 3 days. 
This is another part of the animal skin preservation process which could have been done in fulacht fiadh. A trough would be filled with water. For this to be manageable fulacht fiadh would need to be located next to a water source, as they all are. Ash from camp fires would then be added to the water and mixed in to form bucking solution. When bucking was finished, remaining bucking solution could be scooped out of the trough using cups or pots and spilled on top of the burned mound. Or the water could have been evaporated from the trough using fire heated stones, and the ash then scooped out. 
Again, this could only have been possible providing trough was made watertight. If not the bucking solution would either be diluted or chemically changed by influx of water from the soil, if the fulacht fiadh was located on marshy, waterlogged terrain, or the bucking solution would disappear into the ground if the fulacht fiadh was located on dry well drained soil. 
Graining means removing the hair and grain, the part of the skin that holds the hair. Any grain will make the hide stiffer and will prevent the smoke from entering the hide when smoking the hide latter on. This means you are scraping the outer side of the skin. Traditionaly a bone scraper made from a deer ulna bone was used. It works great but must be sharpened through out the process. 
Drying Skins
After the hides have been grained set them in the sun to dry. This should not take any more then an hour on a dry day. This drying will make the membraning much easier and productive.
Dunk skins into a river or a stream to get them thoroughly wet. Another reason why fulactha fiadh would need to be built next to rivers or streams. This should not take more then about 15 min.
Removing the membrane
By the way bucking also works on the inner side of the skin softening any remains of meat, membrane and other tissue left after skinning. So during graining you can revisit the inner side as well and remove what ever was left clinging to it.
Using the fleshing tool remove the membrane which is what holds the blood vessels. Like the grain, if any membrane is left the hide will be hard and will prevent the smoke from penetrating the hide. You are now working the inner side of the skin. This part of the processing is done as part of fleshing if you want to produce pelts and not leather. 
After the membrane has been removed, put the skins in a gunny sack tied off in a river or a stream and leave them overnight. Again it is handy if your camp is next to the river or a stream…
Next morning the skins should be thin. Wrap the hide so it forms a donut with the outside of the skin out. Wring in one direction then the other, then rotate the hide and do it again. Do not let the dry out you want the skins thirsty but not dry.
Opening (stretching) the skin
Opening the skin will make the skin be thirsty and will do a better job of taking up the tanning agent. 
At the end of this part of the process we have so called “stable” skins, skins which can be stored indefinitely and even used inside where they are not exposed to the elements. They can be smoked to be made more durable and resistant to bacteria and insects. But if you want your skins to be resistant to water and not go cardboard hard ever time they get wet, they need to be tanned, oiled and softened and smoked.
Here you can choose which tanning solution to use to tan your skins. Four traditional and tanning processes that have been used for thousands of years in Europe are vegetable (wood) tanning, brain (oil) tanning, urine tanning and bran (flour) and salt tanning. 
Bark tanning
Tannins are chemicals, more precise acids, which occur naturally in most plants in various amounts. They transform proteins into insoluble products that are resistant to decomposition and this is why tannins are used as tanning agents for leather.
Tannins occur in nearly every plant. It is found in almost any part of the plant, from root to leaves, bark to unripe fruit to nuts and acorns, but it is most concentrated in the bark layer where it forms a barrier against microorganisms such as fungi and bacteria. Typical materials used for bark tanning include any of the oaks, fir, certain willows, chestnut…
If you want to use bark for tanning extract it is best to collect it in the spring. This is when the bark has the highest concentration of tannins and is the easiest to peel, but you can use bark from any time of year. Supposedly, an older tree has more tannin than a younger one, and the lower parts of the tree contain a higher concentration than the top parts. 
Now getting the bark off trees, even if you don’t cut the tree down, will kill the tree. It is good then to know that you can extract tannins not just from bark but also from acorns, oak galls and even leaves (as you can see in this video). 
How do you extract tannins out of the bark? You leach them out. You dry the bark, crush it, pound it into a pulp and then cook it. Tannin is water soluble. The warmer the water you soak the bark in the faster the tannin is extracted. But hot water darkens tannin resulting in a darker colored leather. Now remember my post “Fulacht fiadh – acorn leaching pit“? What i described in that post was a way fulacht fiadh could be used to leach tannins out of acorns. Basically you would fill the fulacht fiadh trough with water, heat the water using the fire heated stones, then dump a lot of shelled and crushed acorns into the trough, and keep simmering them, occasionally changing water until all the tannins were leached out and the water is finally clear. Here you can see what tanned water produced by leaching acorns looks like.

The same leaching procedure can be used for extracting tannins from barks. The tanned water which results from this procedure can be scooped out of the fulacht fiadh trough and collected in large clay vessels. It can then be boiled and concentrated. The concentrated tannin rich “tea” can then be poured back into the trough and used as tanning solution for animal skins.

Soaking of the skins in tanning solution should be done first in a relatively weak solution and then in progressively stronger solutions. It is very important to use a very weak solution for your first bath. If the hide is put into a strong tannin bath, the outside gets tanned and shrinks. This inhibits the tannins from penetrating to the center of the hide, leaving the inner parts raw. This is called “dead tanning” or “case hardening”. The ideal bath to start with is one that has already been used for another hide. That way all the large tannin particles have already been used up. This is known as a “spent liquor”. There is another advantage to spent liquors. In an old bark liquor, the bark sugars have fermented, forming lactic and acetic acid, which help remove any traces of lime as well as help preserve the hide. 

The skins should then be left in the strong solution for as long as it takes for the solution to penetrate all the way to the center of the skin. But how long that is depends on the thickness of the skin and can go from few weeks to few months. Here you can see skins submerged in the tanning pit and the pile of oak bark next to the pit, used to make tanning liquid. Fulacht fiadh trough uses for skin tanning would look very similar to this. 

During the soaking period, fulacht fiadh trough containing skins submerged in tanning solution can be covered with planks or split branches and then covered with hide and soil or peat. From time to time it can be checked on and more tanning concentrate or raw bark can be added to strengthen the tanning solution. 

Eventually the skin is taken out of the tanning solution. It then needs to be rinsed in running water (river, stream next to which fulachta fiadh were usually built) and squeezed and rinsed and squeezed…Until it is rinsed I suppose. 🙂
The skin then needs to be oiled. Oiling the bark tanned skin makes it dry softer, darkens it and prevents it from cracking. Vegetable oils (beach nut oil), tallow, brains, bear and boar fat and fish oil have all been used to finish bark tanned leather. The hide that is being oiled should be damp. It should then be stretched in all directions. Oil should then be spread evenly on the skin and the if you want soft leather the skin should be worked soft as it dries. When the hide is dry, it can be lightly dampened and then oiled and worked again. This process of oiling, working and drying can be repeated until you get the softness you desire. 
This is a good video showing primitive bark tanning of animal skins. 
Brain tanning
This is truly ancient tanning method. It is quick and well suited for single skin processing in the wild. And as opposed to bark tanning it is environmentally friendly. 
There are two distinct methods of brain tanning, one in which you apply tanning solution onto the skin and the other in which you soak the skin in the tanning solution. 
Making the brain solution
Every animal has enough brains to brain tan its own hide. Except for buffalo for which you need brain and bone marrow. To prepare brain tanning solution use warm water but not too hot.  A good rule of thumb is that if its too hot for you, its too hot for the animal. Too hot will ruin the hide.  You have to mix the brains from the animal into warm water and mash them up into a paste. 
Applying the brains
The biggest trick to good brain penetration is proper hide moisture content. You want the hide damp in that you can not squeeze and moisture from it, but feels like a sponge. Too dry and the pores will be too tight to let the brains through, too damp and the pores and fibers will be too full to let anything else in. 
Rub the brain mixture into the stretched hide until it is thoroughly saturated and soaked in. If you are treating hair on hide, make sure you only apply brain solution on the inner side of the hide, as it will make the hair slip if applied on the outer hairy side. Wait until the skin almost dries, then apply the brain solution again. Wait until skin dries again. Remove it from the frame and soak it in water again and then wring it out. Stretch it on the frame again.  
This series of videos shows how to brain tan a bear on a frame. This part shows applying brain tanning solution on the skin stretched on a frame.
But the skin doesn’t need to be stretched on the frame for brains to be applied to it. This is a very good series of videos showing how to apply brain solution on a skin stretch flat on the ground.
After the skin has completely dried out, it needs to be softened. This is done by simultaniously stretching and rubbing the skin. If the skin is stretched on the frame, the softening is done by pushing and scraping the hide with a blunt stick. You have to make sure that every bit of skin is pushed and shoved and scraped… 
Otherwise you can use a pole, a tree stump, a rope or anything else that you can stretch the skin over and pull it from side to side. Here you can see softening of the hide on a stump. 
Regardless how you decide to soften the hide, you have to keep the hide in motion stretching, pulling, pushing for a very very long time. This is a hard process which is continued until the hide is soft. If it gets hard in any places it is because those places dried without being in motion. Rehydrate that part the skin and continue to soften it until it is dry and loose.
In order to make a brain tanned hide resistant to water, it has to be smoked. Otherwise the hide fibers would glue themselves back together again and the hide would become hard. The resins in the smoke penetrate the hide and prevent them from gluing them back together again if they get wet.
Smoking of hides is identical to cold smoking of meat. You need to place the hide on some kind of frame over a smoldering file. If you are smoking one hide or few hides you can just make a temporary tripod from sticks and spread the hide over it, inner side in. 
Then you place the tripod over a fire. This needs to be a cool smoking fire made with punkwood. Punkwood is the wood from any tree that is in a stage of decay where it feels almost styrofoam-like in consistency… very light and slightly squishy.

You have to make sure that the smoke rising from the fire is cool and damp. If the smoke starts to feel dry add more punkwood. It the fire stops smoldering and starts to flame the hides will be ruined. Hides will need to be smoked like this for several hours. Or you can hang the hides under the roof of your wigwam or round house and let them smoke over constantly smoking heart fire. As I already wrote in my post about Curing = Smoking, this is probably how the curing ability of smoke was originally discovered. After the smoking is done, the brain tanned hide will be water resistent. 

Urine tanning

In ancient history, tanning was considered a noxious or “odoriferous trade” and relegated to the outskirts of the town, among the poor. This is because Old Mediterranean and Messopotamian cultures for some reason thought that the best tanning agent was urine. And poo. 
Is this why there are no fulachta fiadh inside villages?
Urine tanning is one of the oldest tanning methods. And one of the stinkiest. Urine tanning consists of dunking skins in a half – half mixture of water and urine and leaving them to soak for a period between 1 day (Source: “Leather – Preparation and Tanning by Traditional Methods” by Lotta Rahme) for fish skins to 30 days for hides with fur. 
Why use urine? Urine contains ammonia, and ammonia is an amazing basic solvent that can break down fats and oils, clean surfaces and stop decay from forming. When our bodies and the bodies of all mammals break down amino acids as a part of normal metabolism, we produce ammonia. Since ammonia is toxic to us while in our bodies, our livers covert that ammonia into urea and salts, which we excrete in our urine. But that separation is only temporary. If you leave the urine to lie around for any amount of time, the urea and salts will start binding back together to form ammonia again. This is why it is the stale pee that is used in tanning.
In order to tan skin with urine, you need to have enough urine to completely submerge the skin in it and have it float without being tightly pressed. Basically what you want is that every bit of the skin is in contact with urine water mixture. For a salmon skin or a small animal like squirrel this means 4 – 8 liters of urine per skin. For larger animal skins you will need a lot more. Normal daily output of urine for an adult is one to two liters per person. So a group of 10 hunters would be able to collect say average 15 liters of urine a day. If an average fulacht fiadh trough contains about 200 liters, they would need 80 liters of urine to make 160 liters of urine water mixture and fill the trough. To collect this volume of pee would take about a week. And where you might ask yourself would the fianna collect their pee in? Well how about the fullacht fiadh trough…Every morning fianna members would emerge from their camp shelter, bloated from all the fulacht fiadh brewed beer they drank previous night. They would gather around the fulacht fiadh trough and then….
As I said, I would take a 10 man hunting band a week to 10 days to fill the trough. During that time they would skin killed animals, flesh and membrane the skins, rub them with urine or mixture of ash and urine to help get rid of hair (if they were making leather rather than pelts) and would then grain the skins wash them and dry them in the sun. These stable skins would then be stored in one of the shelters until the fulacht fiadh trough was full of pee. 
Collection of urine for tanning is well documented, The so called “piss-pots” were located located on street corners, where human urine could be collected for use in tanneries or by washerwomen. So theoretically our fianna boys could have collected new urine in large beakers 🙂 while the skins were pickling in fulacht fiadh trough full of old urine. This way there would be no pause in the trough use…
Once the trough is filled the skins can be then be submerged in the tanning solution and left there until they have been properly tanned. After the skins are submerged and stirred the trough should be covered with hide pressed with stones to prevent excessive evaporation of ammonia. 
You’ll check the skin every day and give it a stir.  It shouldn’t smell too awful, and if it does, you need fresh solution because bacteria has set in. I couldn’t find any instruction how do you distinguish between awful and too awful…I guess years of smelling old pee baths filled with decomposing animal skins will teach you….
Once curing is finished, the skins need to be taken out of the trough. The trough would then need to be emptied of used pee water solution, as it should only be used once. And the new cycle of pee collection would start. As for hides, they would need to be thoroughly washed in water. Few times….It helps if its rubbed in with soap and then rinsed several times. Ancient Irish could have used soap made from camp fire ashes and animal fat. It is also possible to make a warm solution of soap mixture in water, let it cool and then soak the skins in it. You can then make a scented solution of strong smelling barks and flowers in water (tea) and then soak the skins in this water…North American Indians used this type of skin washing procedure after pee tanning. However, even after all this washing, the skin will stink like old pee when wet but as it dries that smell will go away. However some people say that it is the stink that goes away but the smell never really goes away…
Anyway, smelling or not, washed skins would then need to be dried properly. After that it would need to be oiled and stretched and softened. The urine tanning leaves skin very pale. So If you want to change the color of the skin, you can then tan it using vegetable tannins. And then smoked. And that is it. 
Again, the use of fulacht fiadh trough as a tanning vat, could only have been possible providing trough was made watertight. If not the tanning solution would either be diluted or chemically changed by influx of water from the soil, if the fulacht fiadh was located on marshy, waterlogged terrain, or the tanning solution would disappear into the ground if the fulacht fiadh was located on dry well drained soil. 
Bran (flour) and salt tanning
I came across another very interesting way of tanning pelts, which is not very well known: wheat (oat) tanning. This type of tanning was in Scandinavia used to tan sheep skin rugs, and in Serbia, Romania and probably other places for tanning sheep skin for coats. This is how you do it:
Two handfuls of flour and one handful of salt was rubbed into the fleshed and membraned inner side of the skin. Then the skin was folded, a weight is put on and it was then left in a dry place to set for three days. After 3 days, the flour and salt were scraped off the skin and skin was stretched and broken until soft. Finished!
A skin treated like this will be white and relatively brittle. The Scandinavian rugs where used mainly as bed covers, if kept dry, they could last for a lifetime and more.
The process of tanning sheepskin was practiced by most of the peasants at home, with traditional techniques.
Boiled salty spring water (brine) was let to cool down. Oat flour and wheat bran were added, while stirring. The sheepskins were then treated with this mixture and folded, for 3 days. After 3 days, they were dried, then cleaned and stretched and softened.
In Serbia salt and flour tanning is done in two ways: dry and wet. 
Dry tanning
Stretch well washed, fleshed and membraned sheepskin or fur. Rub mixture of flour (bran) and salt into the inner (flesh) side. Leave the skin to dry in a draft our of the direct sun. Once the skin is completely dry tanning is done. The sheepskin or fur is then scraped, brushed and worked to soften. 
Wet tanning
Bran and non ionized salt are poured into luck-warm water (40C) and is left to ferment for 3-4 days. You need 50 – 60 grams of bran and 70 grams of salt per liter of water. Once the tanning solution was ready, skins were submerged in it and left soaking for 1 to 2 weeks. After tanning is done, skins were taken out of the tanning solution, washed, dried, scraped, cleaned, brushed and then stretched, worked until soft. Metal containers and utensils react with salt and rust and should never be used in this type of tanning. So wooden tubs and wooden spatulas or sticks were traditionally used. 
This second procedure could have easily been used for tanning furs in fulachta fiadh. 
Fulacht fiadh troughs which were lined mostly with wooden planks and sometimes with stone plates are ideal containers for this type of tanning. For a 150 liter container (1 meter X 0.5 meter X 0.2 meter), which is an average size fulacht fiadh trough, you would need about 8 kilos of bran and about 11 kilos of salt. To prepare the tanning solution you could pour water into the trough and then heat it using fire heated stones. Once the water is cool enough to put your hand into it, bran and salt could be poured in and stirred. This bran soup would then be left in the covered trough for 3 – 4 days to ferment. The furs were then submerged in the through and pressed with logs so that they don’t float on the surface. The though would be covered again and furs would be left in the tanning solution for one to two weeks. They would be stirred and mixed from time to time to ensure that every part of the skin was in contact with tanning solution. When the tanning was finished, furs would be taken out, dried, scraped, cleaned, brushed and then stretched, worked until soft. The salt still remaining in the tanning solution could be reclaimed by dropping fire heated stones into the trough and boiling the water out. 
After tanning skins were unintentionally smoked. This type of primitive tanning was done by peasants and they lived in very smoky houses with no chimneys. Like this one from Croatia. 
Any skin worn or in any other way used in such houses would soon be completely impregnated with smoke resin and made resistant to elements…
This is a brilliant video showing traditional sheepskin tanning performed by three grandmothers in a village in Croatia. They actually only use salt as a preservative agent, but the procedure is the same as in salt + flour tanning. 
Now we know that Bronze age Irish did grow grains, so they could have used either one of these methods for tanning furs using mixture of salt and bran (flour). By the way this is a very environmentally friendly way of tanning. 
So, there you have it. Geoffrey Keating, in his 17th-century History of Ireland, says that during the winter the fianna were quartered and fed by the nobility, during which time they would keep order on their behalf, but during the summer, from Beltaine to Samhain, they were obliged to live by hunting for food and for pelts to sell. If the Fianna really lived from hunting for pelts to sell, they had to be able to turn animal skins into durable, useful and good looking leather and pelts. To do that they had to preserve (tan) the skins.  And as we have seen Fulachta fiadh could have been used as efficient tanneries (providing troughs were made watertight).  So was this one of the usages of fulachta fiadh? 


This is a pendant with an image of a bull and and what looks like seven bees or seven women. It was found in Ryazan area of Russia, and is attributed to Vyatichi, an early medieval Slavic tribe. Pendant, one of many found in Radimich kurgans, is dated to 11th – 12th century AD.  

What does this pendant represent?

The constellation of Pleiades (also known as seven sisters or seven maidens) lies on the neck of the constellation Taurus (bull)…

According to old writers, for instance Virgil book 4, bees only collect honey between the helical rising and setting of Pleiades (May to November). Funnily this period spans 7 months, the same number as the number of stars (bees or maiden sisters) of the constellation of Pleiades…

Goats and Sheep

Last Judgement, Basilica of Sant’Apollinare Nuovo, Ravenna, Emilia-Romagna. Italy, 5th-6th century

When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. 32 All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.

Matthew 25:31-46

The new, young sun, the new solar year is born on the winter solstice day. The day after, on the 22nd of December, starts Capricorn, Goat. I already wrote about the origin of the Capricorn sign in my post “Goat“. The young sun moves through the winter and arrives at the mid point between the winter solstice and the spring equinox, the point which marks the beginning of the spring, the beginning of the vegetative year. I already wrote about the angle between the vegetative and solar year in my post “Two crosses“. From here the sun continues towards the spring equinox, which is the beginning of Aries, Ram (Sheep). I already wrote about the origin of the Aries sign in my post “Ram and Bull“.

When the spring comes back, when the nature reawakens, Capricorn, the Goat is on the left and the Aries, the Ram (Sheep) is on the right of the SUN of Man, the bringer of life…

The Christian icon is inverted, a mirror image of the celestial scene. The blue cold angel is St Mitar (Martin), Samhain, the beginning of the winter. The red angel is St George, Beltane, the beginning of the summer. Between them is Imbolc, the beginning of Spring…More on that in my post “Two crosses“…

Fulacht fiadh – meat and fish curing facility

A fulacht fiadh or fulacht fian  is a type of archaeological site found in Ireland. In England, Scotland, Wales and the Isle of Man they are known as burnt mounds. They commonly survive as a low horseshoe-shaped mound of charcoal-enriched soil and heat shattered stone with a slight depression at its center showing the position of a stone or wood lined pit. In legend, Fulachta Fiadh, which were also called Fulachta Fian,  were the cooking place of the Fianna. 
Fianna (singular fiann) were small, semi-independent warrior bands in Irish mythology. They are featured in the stories of the Fenian Cycle, where they are led by Fionn mac Cumhaill. The historical institution of the fiann is known from references in early medieval Irish law tracts. A fiann was made up of landless young men and women, often young aristocrats who had not yet come into their inheritance of land.
Geoffrey Keating, in his 17th-century History of Ireland, says that during the winter the fianna were quartered and fed by the nobility, during which time they would keep order on their behalf, but during the summer, from Beltaine to Samhain, they were obliged to live by hunting for food and for pelts to sell.
Now this is very interesting. If Fianna were “obliged” to live by hunting for food and for pelts to sell, they were basically full time, professional meat and fur hunters. 
Fulachtaí fiadh are usually found close to water sources, such as springs, rivers and streams, or waterlogged ground. One of the reasons for this could have been because in thick forests rivers and streams are the easiest ways in and out. So a hunting party would naturally follow the river and set camps on its banks, venturing into the forest to hunt and bringing their kill back to the camp to be processed, cooked and eaten or preserved and stored. These seasonal camps were reused year after year and this is what caused accumulation of burned stones. I spoke about this in more detail in my post “Fulacht fiadh – sweat lodge” and in my post “Banya“.

But there is another reason why Ancient Irish hunters would set camps along rivers. Fish. And one fish in particular: salmon. We know that the Bronze Age Irish had been catching and eating salmon on large scales using massive fish traps and weirs. Indeed the oldest fish traps found in Europe were found in Ireland and were used for catching salmon 8000 years ago. 

Now salmon is a delicious fish so no wonder people have been catching it for food for so long. But as any other fish it is highly perishable. Fish can only last 12-15 hours in fresh condition after catching. So if the ancient Irish really did built fish traps to catch fish in large numbers, they must have had a way of preserving this fish for later use. 
It is exactly the same with meat. A dead animal starts rotting straight away. Especially during the warm period of the year, the meat left outside will get spoiled within hours, unless it is preserved. 
In cold and dry areas of Scandinavia, during spring months, it is possible to air dry fish in 3 to 4 days. 
Such dried fish would keep for a long time. Here is an excellent video showing how this is done. But even there, later in the year, during summer and autumn, when the weather gets warmer and more humid, fish needs to be cold smoke dried in order to preserve it. 
So if the ancient Irish used some method for preserving meat and fish it was probably smoking or smoke drying. Smoking can be done with or without salting. However if you salt the meat or fish before you smoke it, it will last much longer. 
I believe that the Bronze Age Irish were perfectly capable of doing both salting and drying meat and fish using fulachta fiadh. And this is how:

Fish first needs to be scaled, gutted and filleted. This can be done in the stream or river or lake.  

After the meat and fish was cleaned, and before it is salted, it needs to be cut into thin strips to enable deep salt penetration and proper aeration and smoke exposure. 

The meat and fish then need to be salted. Salting is an essential feature in smoking both meat and fish. The basic role of salt in curing is to dehydrate the meat and fish just enough so that bacteria cannot thrive. It also works as an antibacterial agent which kills bacteria on contact cleaning the surface of the the meat. Using the plant salts with high level of nitrates is even better, as the nitrates kill botulism bacteria, which normal salts can’t. I talked about these special salts, and the possibility that the ancient Irish could have used them for food preservation in my post “Not all salts were made equal“. Unsalted fish particularly will usually sour or spoil if kept at smoking temperatures for any length of time. 

There are two ways to salt-cure meat and fish.
Dry curing: Salt is rubbed over the meat.
Wet curing: Also known as brining, this involves soaking the meat in a brine, a strong solution of salt in water. 
Dry salting
Meat or fish pieces are rubbed with salt and placed into a dry fulacth fiadh trough. Once all the pieces are placed into the trough, they are covered with salt, then with stone plates or wooden planks and then stones are placed on top to press the content. You need to leave the meat in the salt for 2 weeks. Every few days the meat is repacked, the bottom pieces are put to the top…
Wet salting
To salt a lot of meat of fish, you need a lot of brine and to make a lot of brine you need a large tub. 
On the website of “the New Zealand digital library, hosted by the University of Waikato”, we can find instructions how to salt and smoke fish using primitive techniques. In this instruction we can see a drawing showing a salting tank with dimensions: 
It is strikingly similar to the construction and dimensions of large fulach fiadh troughs.
So where would you make brine in a fulacht fiadh? In a trough of course. The bigger the better. You need to keep the fish or meat covered with brine throughout the brining period. A log can be floated on the brine to keep the fish or meat submersed, but what ever you are salting should not be packed so tightly that the brine cannot circulate around each piece.

The strength of the brine is a matter of preference. Brining duration depends on the type of smoking you want to do. One method of determining the ratio of water to salt is to put all the fish or meat you want to salt into the trough and then cover it with water. Then just keep adding salt to the water until no more salt will dissolve in it. You can test the concentration of the brine by dropping an egg into the water and adding salt until the object floats. 

The salting period is 3 weeks. 

The thing is for either type of salting, the trough would have to be covered with a wigwam, to protect it from rain. 

After the salting, birning is finished, the remaining salt in the brine can be reclaimed by boiling the brine in the trough using super heated stones. This is the exact same procedure used for extracting salt from brine that I described in my post about a possible use of fulachta fiadh as salt extraction facilities

Now that the fish or meat is salted, it needs to be quickly rinsed in fresh water and it can then be hang and smoked. 

The reason why smoking preservers food is predominantly because a number of wood (or peat) smoke compounds act as preservatives. Phenol and other phenolic compounds in wood smoke are both antioxidants, which slow rancidification of animal fats, and antimicrobials, which slow bacterial growth. Other antimicrobials in wood smoke include formaldehyde, acetic acid, and other organic acids, which give wood smoke a low pH—about 2.5. 

In order to be smoked the fish or meat needs to be hanged off some kind of frame or placed on some kind of rack which is then placed over a smoldering fire. 

There are two general methods of smoking: hot-smoking and cold-smoking. 
Hot-smoking (also called barbecuing or kippering) requires a short brining time and smoking temperatures of  52 to 80 °C and smoking duration between 15 minutes and 8 hours. Hot-smoked fish and meat are moist, lightly salted, and fully cooked, but they will keep at the 4.5 °C for only a few days at best. If hot smoking was used, the meat or fish had to be straight away taken to the nearest settlement for sale. 

A simple wooden rack like the one below is sufficient for short hot smoking. 

Cold-smoking requires a longer brining time, lower temperature of between 26-32°C and extended smoking time of one to five days or more of steady smoking). Cold-smoked fish and meat contain more salt and less moisture than hot-smoked fish. Once the fish has been sufficiently cured by smoke, it will keep at 4.5 degrees Celsius for several months. 
There is also a method of smoking that preserves fish and meat in such a way that it will keep for longer than several months in room temperature. 
Basically you need to sufficiently dehydrate it through prolonged process of smoke drying. First you need to thoroughly salt the fish or meat and then you need to press it to squeeze out excess moisture. Then you need to smoke it for four days to a week on continuously smoldering fire. The resulting product is only about one third its original weight, is quite firm and has a glossy surface. This dehydrated fish or meat will keep for an undetermined period, (not indefinite). This is the kind of smoke drying procedure still used by peasants in Serbia. Meat preserved like this can be kept hanging in airy dry place at room temperature for as long as you want. Fish preserved like this needs to be stored tightly wrapped, in a dry place, at low temperature. 
For long cold smoking, and particularly very long smoke drying, there is a risk that it might rain, and rain will completely spoil the fish or meat being smoked. This is why cold smoking needs to be done in a covered space, similar to a sweat lodge. Remember the design for sweat lodges I proposed was used by the ancient Irish in fulachta fiadh? Exactly the same type of hut can be used as a very efficient cold smoker. 
It is amazing how every part of the fulacht fiadh can be used for so many different things…

This type of preserving fish was recorded by the Lewis and Clark Expedition, also known as the Corps of Discovery Expedition. This was the first American expedition to cross what is now the western portion of the United States. It began near St. Louis, made its way westward, and passed through the continental divide to reach the Pacific coast. 

On the website “A history of the Grand Coulee Dam 1801 – 2001” we can read that Lewis and Clark reported that they had encountered Native Americans that dressed similarly to the Nez Perce near the Celilo Falls, who were all drying and pounding fish. Here Clark wrote that he also saw “Several Indians in canoes killing fish with gigs“. Clark details the drying process when he wrote:

“On those islands of rocks as well as at and about their Lodges I observe great numbers of stacks of pounded salmon neatly preserved in the following manner, i. e. after being sufficiently dried it is pounded between two stones fine, and put in a spaces of basket neatly made of grass and rushes better than two feet long and one foot diameter, which basket is lined with the skin of salmon stretched and dried for the purpose, in this it is pressed down as hard as possible, when full they secure the loops of the basket that part very securely, and then on a dry situation they set those baskets the corded part up, their common custom is to set 7 as close as they can stand and 5 on the top of them, and secure them with mats which is raped around them and made fast with cords and covered also with mats, those 12 baskets of from 90 to 100 lbs. each form a stack. thus preserved those fish may be kept sound and sweet several years, as those people inform me, great quantities as they inform us are sold to the whites people who visit the mouth of this river as well as to the natives below
I believe that if the ancient Irish used smoking to preserve fish and meet, they must have used some method of smoke drying very similar to the one described above. And they could have used fulachta fiadh for it. 
So, there you have it. Geoffrey Keating, in his 17th-century History of Ireland, says that during the winter the fianna were quartered and fed by the nobility, during which time they would keep order on their behalf, but during the summer, from Beltaine to Samhain, they were obliged to live by hunting for food and for pelts to sell. If the Fianna really lived from hunting for pelts to sell, they had to be able to preserve a huge surplus of meat they ended up with during the hunting season for the winter or at least for the duration of transport from the hunting camp to the customers in villages. To do that they had to cure the meat through smoking or salting and smoking.  And as we have seen Fulachta fiadh could have been used as efficient fish and meat curing facilities. 

What remains

This is 7,000-year-old skeleton found during excavations in Molavi Street in the south of Tehran, Iran.

So 7000 years ago, there was a person living in the area of today’s Tehran. Then he died and was buried, and the only thing that today remains of this person are his bones, his skeleton.

This is a carcass of a dead animal. Scavengers have almost stripped all the flesh and soft tissue and soon only bones will remain…

These skeletons are in English known as “remains”. In Serbian they are known as “ostaci” meaning “remains”.

In my previous post “The one who stayed” I talked about the etymology of the PIE root “*gʰóstis” which means at the same time foreigner, guest and enemy. I proposed that this root is actually a construct “ko, go” + “osta” = “who, which” + “stays, remains”.

It just occurred to me. Is it possible that the Serbian word “kost” meaning “bone” comes from the same root “osta” meaning “stay, remain”? The word “kost” would then be a construct “ko,go” + (je) + “osta” = what + (is) + left (after the soft body tissue is stripped off by scavengers, worms, bacteria)…Just like skeletons (bones) on the above pictures. Kost (bone) is what stays, remains (ko, go + osta).

Also if you kill an animal, roast it and eat it, you will be able to eat everything but the bones. They will be the ones that stay, remain, “ko + je + osta” = kost…

If you put yourself in the shoes of our ancestors who developed the original language which we today call Proto Indo European. They would have seen bones remaining after meals, after wild animal kills, after burials…Wouldn’t it have been logical for them to have started using the expression “that which remains” for that which remains from the dead animal or human: ko je osta = kost = bone?

If we look at the official etymology of the Serbian word “kost” we see that it comes from Proto-Slavic “*kostь“, from Proto-Indo-European “h₃ost, h₃ésth₁“.

The fact that we have two alternative PIE roots shows that we are not really sure about the root. The thing is that these two roots are actually both constructs. The first one “h₃ost” comes from ko, go + osta = what stays, remains. The second one “h₃ésth₁” comes from koje + osta = ko + je + osta = what + is + remaining, the remains

Here are all the cognates derived from these PIE roots. You can see that all of them can be built using root “osta” meaning “stay, remain”.

Albanian: asht, ahstë — osta = remain
Hittite: ḫastāi — ko, go + osta + je = that which + remain + is 
Luwian: ḫāš — ko, go + os(ta) = that which + remain
Old Armenian: ոսկր ‎(oskr) — osta ko,ga = ost(k)ga = os(k)ga = remanin + that which
Armenian: ոսկոր ‎(oskor) — osta ko,ga = ost(k)ga = os(k)ga = remanin + that which
Old Irish: asna (< *h₂estnijo) -- ko, go + ostane = that which + remani
Irish: easna — ko, go + ostane = that which + remani
Scottish Gaelic: asna — ko, go + ostane = that which + remani
Welsh: asgwrn (< *astkornu), ais (< *astū < *h₂estōn), asen (< *astonion) -- ostane + on = remain + he, it
Ancient Greek: ὀστέον ‎(ostéon) — osta + je + ono = remain + is + it
Greek: οστό ‎(ostó) — ostao = remains
Latin: os — same like Luvian, shortened osta = remain
Sanskrit: अस्थि ‎(ásthi) — ostaje = osta + je = remain + is
Hindi: अस्थि ‎(ásthi) — ostaje = osta + je = remain + is
Telugu: అస్థి ‎(asthi) — ostaje = osta + je = remain + is
Urdu: استھ ‎(ásthi) — ostaje = osta + je = remain + is
Avestan: asti — ostaje = osta + je = remains + is
Kurdish: hestî — ko, go + ostaje = ko, go + osta + je = that which + remain + is
Persian: است ‎(ast), استخوان ‎(ostoxân) — osta = remain
Kamviri: âṭi — ostaje = osta + je = remain + is
Tocharian B: āy (plural āsta) — osta =  remain

This PIE root etymology fits perfectly with the etymology of the PIE root “*gʰóstis”. Actually these two etymologies support each other, by confirming the original proposed logic behind the development of the PIE root “*gʰóstis” actually makes a lot of sense, because it also explains the development of the PIE root(s) “h₃ost, h₃ésth₁”…

This is quite remarkable don’t you think? 

The one who stayed

“Svakog gosta tri dana dosta” (You will have enough of any guest after three days), Serbian proverb and one of my late grandmother’s favorite sayings. We never stayed longer than 3 days in her house and she never stayed longer than 3 days in ours…
An old inn, hostel

Many years ago I lived in Greece for a year. I used to speak some Greek and one of my favorite words was the Greek word for house “σπίτι” (spiti). It always sounded funny to me. Because of spit, spitting. Yes I am that juvenile. 

But recently I was reminded of this word and suddenly it wasn’t funny any more, because this time the first association that I got was not English “spitting”, but Serbian “spiti” meaning to sleep…So I thought: what is a house? A house is a place where you can stay, sleep and eat “in”, protected from the elements. 

But Serbian “spiti” – “to sleep” couldn’t be the etymology of the Greek word “σπίτι” (spiti) – “house”…Could it?
So I decided to look at the official etymology of this Greek word. What I found is very interesting indeed…

The Greek word “σπίτι” (spiti) is said to come from Byzantine Greek “σπίτιν” ‎(spítin), from Koine Greek “ὁσπίτιον” ‎(hospítion), from Latin “hospitium” ‎meaning “lodgings, guest chamber”.

Now Lating “hospitium” means a place of entertainment for strangers; lodgings, inn, guest-chamber, poorhouse. It is said to come from “hospes” meaning guest, visitor, stranger, foreigner but also host to guests, visitors, strangers, foreigners.

The word “hospes” is then said to derive from hypothetical Proto-Italic word “*hostipotis”, an old compound of “hostis” and the root of “potis”. The only direct Indo-European cognate of this non existent, proposed Proto-Italic word is common Slavic “*gospodь” ‎meaning lord, master. From this we have proposed, non existent “supposed” PIE reconstruction as “*gʰost(i)potis”, a compound of PIE roots “*gʰóstis” and “*pótis“.

The PIE root “*gʰóstis” means stranger. The descendants are

Germanic: *gastiz meaning stranger, guest, enemy
Slavic: *gostь meaning guest
Italic: *hostis meaning stranger, guest. What is interesting is that the only descendant of this Proposed Italic root is Latin word “hostis” which means an enemy of the state, a stranger…

Here is where it gets interesting. 

The PIE root “*gʰóstis” is said to “possibly” come from the PIE root “*gʰes-” ‎meaning to eat. So we don’t know what the actual root is. The reason why the “possible” root is said to be “*gʰes-” meaning to eat, is probably because when you have guests you give them food??? And here is a proposed “possible” cognate: Sanskrit घसति ‎(ghasati) meaning to eat, to devour.

But how does this relate to the Latin meaning of the word which is “an enemy of the state, a stranger”? You are not going to be feeding the enemy?

Well here is another possible etymology which I think will fit much better:

In Slavic languages we have a word “stan” which means “stop, stay, remain, home of, place where one stays, camp, country…”. The word comes from common PIE root “*steh₂-” which officially means “to stand” but I would also add “to stay, to remain”.

No in Serbian we have the word “ostati” meaning “to stay, to stay behind”. The word “osta” means “stayed, stayed behind”. The expression “on osta” means “he stayed, he stayed behind” and the expression “ko osta” means “(he) who stayed, (he) who stayed behind”. The  old word for “he who” is ga, go, gu which is still used in South of Serbia. That would make “go osta” = gosta = gost = guest…

And here are some other Sanskrit cognates which fit this etymology:

स्थिति (sthiti) stay
आस्था (AsthA) stay

कोष्ठ (koSTha) – room
गोष्ठा (goSThA) – place where cows are kept, cowshed, stable, pen, refuge. 

Both from ko, go + osta = that which + stay

So it is very much possible that the PIE root “*gʰóstis” comes from “osta” meaning “stay”.

Now have a look at the meanings of all the words that stem from the proposed PIE root “*gʰóstis“: stranger, guest, enemy. Can we derive these meanings from the word “osta”?

Guest is someone, a stranger, not one of us, not one who has a house in our village, who came to visit and stayed: “k(g)o osta”. At the time when these words were developed the only people who came from the outside of the community were strangers and if they stayed they were the strangers who stayed. As guests.

If some stranger comes to the village and needs to stay the night you need a place for him to stay in. The place where people stay when they are in a foreign village is a hotel or a hostel. The English word “hotel” is a borrowing from French “hôtel” which is a version of “ho(s)tel” which has lost it’s “s”. The English word “hostel” is then said to come from middle English, from Old English reinforced by Old French (h)ostel (also found as osteaus, osteax, ostiaus, ostiax), which means “shelter, place to stay”. This word is then said to come from Late Latin “hospitale” meaning “hospice”, from Classical Latin “hospitalis” ‎meaning “hospitable” and we are back at “hospes” meaning guest, visitor, stranger, foreigner but also host to guests, visitors, strangers, foreigners.

Now if “osta” means “to stay, stay behind” then ostel, osteaus, osteax, ostiaus, ostiax can all be derived from the same root to mean “the place where you can stay, stay behind”, which is the meaning of hostel, hotel, inn. Literally the place where foreigners can stay in…

In Irish the word for hotel is “ostan”. If we look at the Irish dictionary we find these words based on the root “osta” meaning to stay:

osta, g. id., pl. iostaidhe, m., an apartment, place, habitation, dining room, an inn.
iostán, -áin, pl. id., m., a cottage, a hut, dim. of iosta.
iostas, -ais, pl. id., m., an entertainment, a lodging, accommodation, housing, quartering (pronunciation can be found here)
ósta, g. id., m., hospitality, entertainment; a lodging, an inn; teach ósta, an inn.
óstaidheacht, -a, f., lodging, entertainment.
óstánach, -aigh pl. id., m., an innkeeper (O’N.).
óstas, -ais, m., inn-keeping, entertainment.
óstóir, -óra, -óiridhe, m., a host, an inn-keeper.
óstóireacht. -a, f., hostelry.

This root exists in the Early Irish and the meaning is the place where strangers, guests can stay, like a house, a hut, a lodging, an inn. Sure you can eat in a house, in a hut, in a lodging, in an inn, but the main thing that strangers, guests can do there is “to stay inn”…

Sometimes the strangers who stay are not friendly strangers but enemies who stayed, as hostages. Or as prisoners.

The English word “hostage” means “a person given as a pledge or security for the performance of the conditions of a treaty or stipulations of any kind, on the performance of which the person is to be released”. During that time a hostage is a guest, unwelcome guest (k(g)osta), but a guest nevertheless…The word comes from Old French “hostage”, which comes from Old French “oste” which apparently comes from Latin “hospes” which comes from proposed PIE “*gʰost(i)potis” which comes from PIE “*gʰóstis” meaning guest, visitor, stranger, foreigner but also host to guests, visitors, strangers, foreigners. Now in the past hostages were given to the enemy. They were the ones “who were given to stay behind” as hostages. In Serbian “who stayed give him” = “ko osta da ga” = hostage.

One, on the first glance, very strange thins is that the PIE “*gʰóstis” means stranger, guest, enemy. Now when does a guest become an enemy? When he overstays the welcome and when you have to use force to get him out of your home, of your land. This is when guest becomes a hostile (enemy). The English word “hostile” comes from Middle French “hostile” which comes from Latin hostīlis, which comes from Latin “hostis” ‎meaning enemy, which comes from Proto-Italic “*hostis” which comes from PIE “*gʰóstis” ‎guest, stranger, enemy…

So here you have it. I believe that it is pretty obvious that the PIE “*gʰóstis” does not come from PIE root “*gʰes-” ‎meaning to eat, but that it comes from the PIE root “*steh₂-” which means “to stand, to stop” through Slavic word “osta” meaning stay, remain.

Now let’s go back to the “supposed” PIE reconstruction “*gʰost(i)potis”, a compound of PIE roots “*gʰóstis” and “*pótis“. 

If the PIE root “*gʰóstis” has etymology which can be derived from a construct which was preserved in Slavic languages, is it possible that the other part of of the “*gʰost(i)potis”, the PIE root “*pótis” can also be derived from a construct preserved in Slavic languages?

Actually it can. 

The PIE root “*pótis” means master, ruler, husband, father. Now the Slavic word “gospod” which means master, ruler, husband, father is actually short version of the word “gospodar” meaning master ruler. If the above etymology is correct, “gospod” can indeed be split into “gost” + “poda”. The “poda” is short of “podari” which means “allows, gives as a gift, bestows, permits…” Which is exactly what a master, ruler, husband, father does…He decides who stays “under his roof”, in his village, on his land, in his garden of Eden. The same goes for the hostel owner, inn keeper. 

So gospod = gost + poda = ko + osta + poda = who + stays + permits, allows, gives. Basically gospod is the hospitable one…

And finally lets go back to the Greek word that started all this: “σπίτι” (spiti) meaning “house”. The word is said to come from Byzantine Greek “σπίτιν” ‎(spítin), from Koine Greek “ὁσπίτιον” ‎(hospítion), from Latin hospitium ‎meaning “lodgings, guest chamber”.

Is it possible that this word does not actually come from the “*gʰost(i)potis” but instead from another construct preserved in Slavic languages? In South Serbian dialects of Slavic languages Latin word hospitium, meaning “lodgings, guest chamber, the place where guests sleep”, can be broken into hospitium = ko osta + spi(e) + tu = who stayed (guest) + sleeps + there = lodging,  guest chamber. Even the proposed root of hospitium, the word “hospes” meaning guest, visitor, stranger, foreigner but also host to guests, visitors, strangers, foreigners can be broken into hospes = ko osta + spi(e) = who stayed (guest) + sleeps…

Interesting, don’t you think?