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News: Urine, Fingernail-Filled 'Witch Bottle' Found

Urine, Fingernail-Filled 'Witch Bottle' Found
Jennifer Viegas, Discovery News

June 4, 2009 -- During the 17th century in England, someone urinated in a
jar, added nail clippings, hair and pins, and buried it upside-down in
Greenwich, where it was recently unearthed and identified by scientists as
being the world's most complete known "witch bottle."

This spell device, often meant to attract and trap negative energy, was
particularly common from the 16th to the 17th centuries, so the discovery
provides a unique insight into witchcraft beliefs of that period, according
to a report published in the latest British Archaeology.

Lead researcher Alan Massey, a former chemist and honorary fellow of
Loughborough University, believes "the objects found in witch bottles verify
the authenticity of contemporary recipes given for anti-witchcraft devices,
which might otherwise have been dismissed by us as being too ridiculous and
outrageous to believe."

An Old Bailey court record from 1682 documents that a husband, believing his
wife to be afflicted by witchcraft, was advised by a Spitalfields apothecary
to "take a quart of your Wive's urine, the paring of her Nails, some of her
Hair, and such like, and boyl them well in a Pipkin."

The excavated bottle appears to have been made according to those, or
similar, instructions.

CT scans and chemical analysis, along with gas chromatography conducted by
Richard Cole of the Leicester Royal Infirmary, reveal the contents of the
bottle to include human urine, brimstone, 12 iron nails, eight brass pins,
hair, possible navel fluff, a piece of heart-shaped leather pierced by a
bent nail, and 10 fingernail clippings.

Although some 200 early witch bottles have been identified, all were found
opened, with their contents likely eroded or otherwise lost. This artifact,
in contrast, had its cork closure still intact.

The urine contained nicotine, so a smoker produced it. Since the fingernails
showed little wear, Massey believes the individual was "of some social

Brimstone, the ancient name for sulfur, is associated with passages in
several religious texts, including the Bible. In the Book of Revelations,
for example, "false prophets" were cast into a volcano-like lake "burning
with brimstone."

In terms of the heart object, Massey said other witch bottles were found to
contain "a cloth heart pierced by brass pins," but "this is the first
example where a nail was used for this function." The meaning remains

The bottle itself is actually a salt-glazed jar made in the Netherlands or
Germany and stamped with the face of Cardinal Roberto Bellarmino
(1542-1621), who played an important role in the Catholic Reformation.

Massey believes witch bottles "emphasize just how frightened people were of
the 'black arts' -- the early settlers even took their superstitions to the
New World with them as excavated witch bottles demonstrate."

The general time period of the bottle coincides with the Salem Witch Trials,
which happened in late 1600's America.

Archaeologist Mike Pitts, the editor of British Archaeology, told Discovery
News, "The discovery of something so apparently bizarre, indicating a clear
belief in witchcraft and forces that have nothing at all to do with
conventional, approved religion, remind us that early modern England did not
belong to the same world we now inhabit."

Source: http://dsc.discovery.com/news/2009/06/04/witch-bottle.html
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