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Video: Civil War-Era 'Witch Bottle' Unearthed in Virginia

By Tim Binnall

An archaeological excavation of a Civil War outpost in Virginia led to the discovery of a rather curious artifact: a 'witch bottle' designed to ward off evil spirits. The remarkable find was reportedly made during a dig at a location known as 'Redoubt 9,' a former Civil War fort that, in modern times, sits buried along a highway median. As researchers were combing over the remnants of the battle station, they unearthed a glass bottle containing broken nails which they initially thought was just a container, but now suspect had far more significance to the soldiers.

Since the bottle had been found buried near a hearth, a pair of researchers on the archaeological team proposed that the vessel was probably a talisman known as a 'witch bottle.' A product of England during the Middle Ages that spread to America by way of the colonialists, these ritual objects were believed to be capable of fending off sinister spirits. According to a press release from the archaeological team, "an afflicted person would bury the nail-filled bottle under or near their hearth, with the idea that the heat from the hearth would energize the nails into breaking a witch's spell."

Amazingly, while there have been around 200 witch bottles found in England to date, the number discovered in America so far is less than 12. Explaining that the base where the artifact was found had originally been built by the Confederates, but was subsequently captured by the Union, the researchers marveled that the talisman provides a glimpse into what may have been going through the minds of soldiers stationed at the site.

"The Union troops were an occupying force in enemy territory throughout most of the war, so there were plenty of bad spirits and energy to ward off," said archaeologist Joe Jones. Putting himself in the hypothetical shoes of a soldier of that time, he mused that this individual was likely fearful of both attacks from the Confederates as well as local residents unhappy about the intrusion by the Union army and, therefore, "had good reason to pull all the stops and rely on folk traditions from his community ... to help protect his temporary home away from home.”

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