Friday 5 June 2009

Greenwich witch bottle

Thanks to Transpontine for the amazing story of an archaeological find in Greenwich.

Witch bottles were buried to protect against spells. We know about them from 16th and 17th century literature and previous finds, but for the first time an intact bottle has been opened and its contents scientifically examined.

The bulb-shaped, salt-glazed bottle splashed and rattled. So what was inside? A rather unappetising mixture of bent pins, nails, urine (of a smoker), manicured fingernail clippings (suggesting higher social standing), a leather heart, navel fluff, hair and sulphur. The combination was believed to throw any spells back on the witch - apparently by irritating her bladder so badly she'd reverse the spell. (Hence the bulb shape, the urine, and the pins and nails.)

The article doesn't reveal where the bottle was found. However, they tended to be placed at building entrance and exit points, including the hearth. This particular example had most of its solid contents in the neck, suggesting it had been placed upside-down.

Further reading: the original New Scientist article; more on witch bottles; the Greenwich Phantom's account.
Image from New Scientist - more pictures here.


Adam said...

Fascinating - but I don't envy the scientists (archeologists?) who had to sift through that lot!

CarolineLD said...

Ugh, I don't even want to think about how they identified navel fluff!