Archeologists Found Witch Bottle in Virginia That Dates Back to the Civil War

It’s no secret witches were a popular thing back in the Civil War days. People looked for ways to expose and defend against them. This is why a glass bottle filled with rusted nails is not a mundane find at all, but a rather exciting archeological discovery.

An Unusual Find

A glass bottle filled with rusty iron nails
Archeologists Found Witch Bottle in Virginia That Dates Back to the Civil War

Archeologists from the William & Mary Center of Archeological Research (WMCAR) found the bottle at a site known as Redoubt 9. The site is a fortification that was built back in 1861 by Confederate troops and was later occupied by Union forces. At first, archeologists thought Union soldiers had used the nails in the bottle to repair the mini-fort after it suffered a Confederate attack. But, given the location where they found it (near a hearth), they came up with a new theory that the bottle served a ritual purpose instead.

‘Witch Bottles’ Were Used to Protect Homes

A black and white drawing depicting a Salem witch in court
Archeologists Found Witch Bottle in Virginia That Dates Back to the Civil War

The Civil War was a time of fear and constant casualties. Since Union troops were the occupying force throughout most of the war, there was plenty of bad energy and spirits that people felt the need to protect themselves from. The practice of witch bottles originated in England, and it traveled to North America through British immigrants. The peak was during the 16th and 17th centuries when witchcraft and witch-hunting were at their peak.

Three ceramic "witch bottles" with engraved faces
Archeologists Found Witch Bottle in Virginia That Dates Back to the Civil War

If a person believed they had been cursed by a witch, they’d take a ceramic or a glass bottle and fill it with nails and bent pins. Others would also add human hair and urine according to some sources. The bottle was then buried under the hearth of the person’s house. The heat coming from the hearth would animate the iron nails or pins, which would force the witch to suffer the consequences or break the link.

Although this particular bottle is from a 19th-century fort, this only goes to show the power of superstitions and how they can survive through the centuries.