Although the archaeologists weren’t quite certain what they had unearthed at first, they later surmised that the glass vessel, found near an old Civil War fortification east of Williamsburg, is most likely a “witch bottle.”
— William & Mary News (@WMNews) January 22, 2020
“It was this glass bottle full of nails, broken, but all there, near an old brick hearth,” said Joe Jones, director of the William & Mary Center for Archaeological Research (WMCAR), is quoted as saying in a press release.
“We thought it was unusual, but weren’t sure what it was.”
According to Earth Witchery, witch bottles have been used in England and the United States since at least the 1600s, usually to “destroy the power of an evil magician or witch thought to have cast a spell about the bottle’s creator.” The bottles typically held needles or nails, as well as the hair and even urine of their creators. Jones also explained that the bottle’s creator, or so-called victim of a witch, would bury the bottle near their hearth in the hope that the heat would break the witch’s spell.
The bottle was recovered at Redoubt 9, which today is known as exits 238 to 242 on York County’s Interstate 64. According to the archaeologists, Redoubt 9 is one of the forts established by the Confederates and later occupied by the Union Army following the 1862 Battle of Williamsburg.
Although almost 200 witch bottles have been found in Great Britain, so far, less than a dozen have been unearthed in the US.
“It’s a good example of how a singular artifact can speak volumes. It’s really a time capsule representing the experience of Civil War troops, a window directly back into what these guys were going through occupying this fortification at this period in time,” Jones explained.
“Perhaps the nails in the bottle were put there not by enlisted men using the bottle as an expedient container, but instead by an officer who felt especially threatened occupying hostile territory,” Jones added.