Civil War-Era ‘Witch Bottle’ Used to Keep Evil Spirits at Bay Discovered in Virginia

Robert Hunter
Robert Hunter

When people think of Civil War artifacts, they may picture cannonballs or 19th-century rifles. An item recently dug up from the ruins of a fort in Virginia isn't a weapon, but it was likely viewed by Union soldiers as a source of protection. The artifact—a glass jug filled with rusted nails—is believed to be a witch bottle, or a talisman used to ward off evil spirits, Live Science reports.

Archaeologists uncovered the so-called witch bottle during a dig organized by the Virginia Department of Transportation at Redoubt 9, a Civil War-era site that sits in the median between exits 238 and 242 on Interstate 64. The fortification was constructed by Confederate soldiers in 1861 and taken over by Union troops later in the war. The glass bottle was made in Pennsylvania, which indicates it was probably left there by a Union soldier from the Pennsylvania cavalry that likely occupied the site.

It's easy to mistake the bottle for trash. Archaeologists found it near the fort's hearth and initially assumed it had been used by soldiers to store nails for repairs. But to someone familiar with old English superstitions, the artifact tells a much more interesting story.

In 16th and 17th century England, it was common for people to use witch bottles to protect themselves from curses placed on them by the witches that were feared to be everywhere at the time. The "cursed" would fill a glass or ceramic container with bent pins or nails and even add urine and human hair in some cases. They would then bury the bottle near the house's hearth, the idea being that the heat would cause it to shatter, thus breaking the witches spell.

This type of practice was much less common in Civil War-era America, but the artifact shows that the superstition introduced to the country by British immigrants had survived into the 19th century. It also illustrates the fear soldiers must have felt at the height of the war and the lengths they took to ease those worries.

“There were a lot of casualties and fear during this period," Joe Jones, the director of the William & Mary Center for Archaeological Research, which works closely with the Virginia Department of Transportation on archaeological work, said in a statement. "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.”

According to the WMCAR, this witch bottle is one of fewer than a dozen that have been discovered in the United States.

[h/t Live Science]

Demolition of a Condemned Pennsylvania Bar Reveals 18th-Century Log Cabin

taviphoto, iStock via Getty Images
taviphoto, iStock via Getty Images

Many unusual things have been discovered in the structures of old buildings. When contractors began demolishing a bar in Washingtonville, Pennsylvania, they didn't expect to find a separate building concealed within its paneling.

The log cabin uncovered in the bar was built as far back as the 18th century, Newsweek reports. Contractors were in the process of tearing down the condemned establishment when they noticed antique, exposed beams inside the building additions. As they removed more panels, a whole log cabin began to take shape.

The structure consists of two stories and spans 1200 square feet. The beams appear to be made of ax-cut hickory wood, but beyond that, little is known about the cabin or where it came from. A borough map from 1860 depicts a larger building where the cabin would be, indicating that the first additions were built onto it more than 150 years ago. The bar built at the site has been closed for around 12 years and condemned for more than three.

Washingtonville council president Frank Dombroski says the cabin is salvageable, but taking the necessary steps to preserve it will be difficult. The community lacks the funds necessary to rehabilitate it where it stands and keep it as a historic landmark. Instead, the council has decided to disassemble the structure piece-by-piece, number and catalog it, and reconstruct it someplace else. Until then, the building in its exposed state will remain in its original location on the corner of Water and Front Streets.

[h/t Newsweek]

Ancient Human Remains Were Found During a Father-Son Bike Trip in Washington

Brothers_Art/iStock via Getty Images
Brothers_Art/iStock via Getty Images

Among the things you can expect from a leisurely bike ride with your 4-year-old son—fresh air, exercise, bonding—accidentally stumbling upon ancient human remains is not among them. Yet that’s exactly what happened to Matt Kiddle earlier this month near Port Angeles, Washington, when a spin around the area revealed a weathered skull erupting from the ground.

Kiddle was biking with his son, Ivan, along the Olympic Discovery Trail when the two came across the skull and mandible. The pair climbed off his bike and walked on to the beach for a closer look, where Kiddle also noticed a scapula, or shoulder blade. Later, another pedestrian noticed a hip bone.

Fearing they had stumbled upon a crime scene, Kiddle examined the remains and realized the bones were likely old. He called the police. A forensic archaeologist determined they’re between 500 and 1000 years old and are of Native-American origin.

"Frankly, my first reaction was, what poor individual is missing that I just found their bones, then I quickly realized they were very old and likely Native American, and some form of ancient individual," Kiddle, a physician assistant, told the Peninsula Daily News.

How did the remains manage to become visible? Parts of the Trail have crumbled due to coastal erosion, revealing below-surface discoveries like this one.

The Washington Department of Archaeological and Historic Preservation will now look to determine which tribe the deceased belonged to so the bones can be repatriated and properly laid to rest.

[h/t Smithsonian]