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Uncanny Archaeology of Halloween

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Vlad the Impaler
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« Reply #105 on: October 31, 2009, 12:16:45 am »



Six-pointed stars in an Allentown, Pennsylvania, hex sign
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Vlad the Impaler
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« Reply #106 on: October 31, 2009, 12:17:24 am »



Detail from Claes Van Visscher's panoramic view of London in 1616.
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Vlad the Impaler
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« Reply #107 on: October 31, 2009, 12:53:13 am »

Opening a Witch Bottle
"Uncanny Archaeology"
by Samir S. Patel

Around the time of the Salem witch trials in Massachusetts, belief in witchcraft also persisted in England and continental Europe. Witch bottles--small containers filled with personal items, sealed, and buried--are one way witchcraft appears in the archaeological record. The belief was that the buried bottle absorbed a spell, tormenting the witch that cast it. When they are found today, they are almost always broken or empty, but in Greenwich in 2004, workers found a rare, unopened example, a stoneware bellarmine jar. They heard rattling and splashing inside, so the bottle found its way to retired chemist Alan Massey, an old hand at examining witch bottles. It was an unusual opportunity to bring all the tools of modern science (laboratory science and high-tech elemental analysis--our own witchery!) to the study of 17th-century witchcraft.

X-rays revealed pins and nails stuck in the jar's neck (it had been buried upside-down), and a CT scan showed that it was about half-filled with liquid. Using a long needle, scientists penetrated the cork and extracted some of the brew inside. Using proton nuclear magnetic resonance and gas chromatography/mass spectrometry, they determined the contents: urine. The bodily fluid was spiked with a metabolite of nicotine, indicating a smoker, and sulfur, the hellish brimstone of the Book of Revelation. After removing the cork, and taking in what was likely a rather unpleasant smell, Massey inventoried the contents: 12 iron nails (one of which was driven through a leather heart), 8 brass pins, clumps of hair, 10 manicured fingernail clippings, and a little clot of what looked like bellybutton lint. Textual sources confirm that these were not unusual items. According to British Archaeology, where the find was first reported, a court record from 1682 documents the recommendation of an apothecary: "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." Apparently, sometimes when you have attracted the attention of a witch, you have to get your hands dirty and resort to a little of the craft yourself.

http://www.archaeology.org/online/features/halloween/opening_witch_bottle/
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Vlad the Impaler
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« Reply #108 on: October 31, 2009, 12:55:17 am »

Fine Wine & a ****-Poor Vintage
Volume 53 Number 6, November/December 2000
by Spencer P.M. Harrington

Two corked seventeenth-century wine bottles, one found on a wreck off the coast of the Netherlands, the other in the foundation of a demolished house in England, have yielded strikingly different contents: a rare example of 350-year-old Portuguese wine, and a putrid concoction of urine and hair designed to harm witches who cast spells.

The wine, possibly the private stash of a naval officer, was recovered from a Dutch warship sunk in the Wadden Sea, a shallow sound between the North Sea and the Netherlands coast. The onion-shaped green bottle is among the oldest corked bottles ever found with its wine intact.

The wreck was investigated by the Netherlands Institute for Ship and underwater Archaeology (NISA), a government-sponsored team that since the late 1980s has been conducting surveys of the Wadden Sea to inventory the more than 500 vessels, mainly Dutch, that are thought to have sunk there. "The Wadden Sea was an enormous anchorage between the sixteenth and nineteenth centuries," says Arent Vos, head of NISA's Archaeological Diving Unit.
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Vlad the Impaler
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« Reply #109 on: October 31, 2009, 12:55:49 am »

A panel of six tasters, mostly wine journalists, convened by Dutch wine historian Lucette M. Faber, recently gathered to taste the wine. Faber said it tasted like "an old Madeira with an aroma of marmalade and nuts. I also tasted elderberry juice and saw it in the wine's pinkish color." Wines mixed with elderberry juice are known to have been made at the time in the Douro region of northeast Portugal. Chemical analysis indicated a high level of acidity that could well have been caused by the addition of the juice. Since most wines during this period were shipped in casks, and only the finest were bottled, Faber speculates that the wine belonged to one of the ship's officers.
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« Reply #110 on: October 31, 2009, 12:56:20 am »

Meanwhile, the English wine bottle, discovered in 1993 in Reigate, 20 miles south of London, and initially thought to contain wine, yielded instead a fetid liquid and nine tiny brass pins, each bent into an L-shape. The find was identified as a witch bottle, used in England between the sixteenth and nineteenth centuries to protect against evil spirits and to punish witches who had cast hexes. Now chemical analysis by Alan Massey and Tony Edmonds, both of Loughborough University, has proved what folk tradition had long held: that witch bottles were full of urine. Though 200 such bottles have been recovered, almost every excavated bottle had leaked, making it impossible to identify their liquid contents.
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« Reply #111 on: October 31, 2009, 12:57:14 am »

The primary use of the bottles was counter-witchcraft, says Brian Hoggard, a Worcester University graduate student who is writing a thesis on them. Victims of spells would urinate in bottles, add pins and perhaps some hair, and then bury them under their homes, casting a vengeful curse on the witches who had injured them in the first place. "The curse was intended to make the unfortunate object of it feel as if they were weeing with a bladder full of bent pins," says Alan Massey. Hoggard maintains a website on English folk magic that, in addition to witch bottles, discusses dried cats and horse skulls (www.apotropaios.co.uk).

http://www.archaeology.org/0011/newsbriefs/wine.html
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« Reply #112 on: October 31, 2009, 12:57:59 am »



Similar vessels, different contents: Dutch bottle, left (Courtesy NISA), yielded red wine; English bottle, right (Alan Massey), urine.
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« Reply #113 on: October 31, 2009, 12:59:33 am »

When Spells Worked Magic
Volume 56 Number 2, March/April 2003
by Christopher A. Farone

In ancient times, a curse could help you win in the stadium or the courts, and a plea addressed to a demon could bring you the woman of your dreams

During an emergency excavation at the site of a new parking garage in Rome's Piazza Euclid, archaeologist Marina Piranomonte and her colleagues found the remains of a fountain dedicated to a minor and very ancient Roman goddess, Anna Perenna. Embedded in the layers of mud and debris they came upon a cache of voodoo dolls and lead curse tablets that had apparently been hidden there sometime in the fourth century A.D. Many of the dolls had been placed in lead canisters, one of which yielded a thumbprint, probably of a woman, according to the police fingerprint laboratory. The discovery supports the impression we get from ancient literary sources that women often acted as professional witches. In his novel Metamorphoses, for example, the second-century A.D. author Apuleius describes in vivid and undoubtedly exaggerated detail a witch at work:
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« Reply #114 on: October 31, 2009, 01:00:31 am »

First she arranged her deadly laboratory with its customary apparatus, setting out spices of all sorts, unintelligibly lettered metal plaques, the surviving remains of ill-omened birds, and numerous pieces of mourned and even buried corpses: here noses and fingers, there flesh-covered spikes from crucified bodies, elsewhere the preserved gore of murder victims and mutilated skulls wrenched from the teeth of wild beasts. Then she recited a charm over some pulsating entrails and made offerings with various liquids.... Next she bound and knotted those hairs together in interlocking braids and put them to burn on live coals along with several kinds of incense.
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« Reply #115 on: October 31, 2009, 01:01:12 am »

Behind this lurid scene set in far-off Thessaly, there are undoubtedly some true-to-life facts, for magic was pervasive in the classical world. Indeed, everything for the ancients, from impotence to political assassination, might be caused by magic. The Roman poet Ovid wondered, in the late first century B.C., if his lovemaking ability had been cursed: "Was I the wretched victim of charms and herbs, or did a witch curse my name upon a red wax image and stick fine pins into the middle of the liver?" The historian Tacitus records chilling discoveries made at the time of the death of Germanicus, grandson of Augustus and heir of the emperor Tiberius, in A.D. 19:

    explorations in the floor and walls [of his house] brought to light the remains of human bodies, spells, curses, leaden tablets en-graved with the name Germanicus, charred and blood-smeared ashes, and others of the implements by which it is believed the living soul can be devoted to the powers of the grave.
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« Reply #116 on: October 31, 2009, 01:01:46 am »

In the end, Roman authorities executed a woman named Martina for murdering Germanicus, while the senator Gnaeus Calpurnius Piso and his wife, Plancina, thought to be behind the deed, were forced to commit suicide. Magic was clearly not something to be trifled with. What, then, was the witch who left us her thumbprint at the fountain of Anna Perenna in Rome doing? There are two strong possibilities: she was engaged either in cursing people or in magically compelling them to fall in love.
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« Reply #117 on: October 31, 2009, 01:02:29 am »

The magical paraphernalia of Apuleius' witch and Martina, who allegedly attacked Germanicus, included tablets inscribed with strange letters or the victim's name. Archaeologists have found hundreds of these. The Greeks called them "curses that bind tight," and the late Latin term for them meant "curses that fix or fasten someone." To make such a "binding spell" one would inscribe the victim's name and a formula on a lead tablet, fold it up, often pierce it with a nail, and then deposit it in a grave or a well or a fountain, placing it in the realm of ghosts or underworld divinities who might be asked to enforce the spell. These curses seem to have been a Greek invention, and many focus on that most Greek of concerns, competition, especially in athletic and legal contests. A Roman-era curse tablet found at Carthage, for example, calls on demons to:
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« Reply #118 on: October 31, 2009, 01:02:56 am »

...bind every limb and every sinew of Victoricus, the charioteer of the Blue team...and of the horses he is about to race.... Bind their legs, their onrush, their bounding, their running, blind their eyes so they cannot see and twist their soul and heart so that they cannot breathe. Just as this rooster has been bound by its feet, hands and head, so bind the legs and hands and head and heart of Victoricus, the charioteer of the Blue team, for tomorrow.
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« Reply #119 on: October 31, 2009, 01:03:28 am »

The courts of law were another competitive venue for the use of binding spells, which focus on the victims' minds and words rather than their bodies. Take for example this curse tablet from Athens:

    Theagenes the butcher. I bind his tongue, his soul and the speech he is practicing. Pyrrhias. I bind his tongue, his soul and the speech he is practicing. I bind the wife of Pyrrhias, her tongue and soul. I also bind Kerkion, the butcher, and Dokimos, the butcher, their tongues, their souls and the speech they are practicing. I bind Kineas, his tongue, his soul and the speech he is practicing with Theagenes. And Pherekles. I bind his tongue, his soul and the evidence that he gives for Theagenes. All these (i.e. their names) I bind, I hide, I bury, I nail down. If they lay any counterclaim before the arbitrator or the court, let them seem to be of no account, either in word or deed.
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