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  • Writer's pictureAndrea Liu

Peat bog + tanning?

Peat bog in Co. Roscommon, Ireland

Ever since I studied in Ireland as a teen, I was intrigued by bog bodies that lay in the National Museum of Ireland. I learned that "bog bodies are so well preserved that you can tell what season it was when they died, what they were wearing, how they died, and even what they ate for their most recent meal." (Bog bodies: the chemistry behind natural embalming: 2018) What is it in peat bog that allows for corpses to transform into a leathery state?

Entering into the world of tanning leather, I wonder about what other materials could produce tannins. As I read more about bog bodies and peat bog, I discovered more about how the high tannin properties and sphagnum released from the peat moss preserved the tissues of a person buried in a bog by preventing bacterial growth. And so I began connecting the dots, wondering, could peat tanning be possible with salmon skins or any skins?

Cut peat stacked to dry in Ireland.

Cut peat stacked to dry in Ireland.

In my research, I also discovered the ancient use of bogs for pickling and storing foods. Since the age of Vikings, peat moss had been used as food storage. In awe, I read how Norwegian researchers found:

"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." (Jones, Bog Bodies: 2001)

Dr. Terence Painter, professor at Norwegian University of Science and Technology in Trondheim, researched on the preservative abilities of peat and conducted tests where he treated 3/4-inch-long zebra fish with peat or extract and left others untreated. After two years, he found that the treated fish were amazingly still intact and smelled fine, whereas the untreated fish virtually vanished from decay after just two weeks. Not just with fish, Painter and his team were successful with preserving apples, carrots, radishes and other vegetables in peat bogs.

Peat bog have certainly ignited my curiosity and imagination! How could I utilise this soft and spongy ground composed largely of living and decaying Sphagnum Moss and make use of it as a tanning material?

Salmon skins in peat

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