Civil War-era jug found on I-64 may be rare ‘witch bottle’

Virginia News

Photo by Robert Hunter

YORK COUNTY, Va. (WRIC) — A centuries-old artifact found on a Virginia highway could be a rare ‘witch bottle,’ according to William & Mary researchers.

The bottle was discovered as part of an archaeological dig at Redoubt 9, a Civil-War era-site, now known as exits 238 to 242 on Interstate-64 in York County.

“It was this glass bottle full of nails, broken, but all there, near an old brick hearth,” said Joe Jones, director of the William & Mary Center for Archaeological Research (WMCAR). “We thought it was unusual, but weren’t sure what it was.”

WMCAR founder Robert Hunter and member Oliver Mueller-Heubach theorized the artifact’s contents are reminiscent of a “rare ritual item known as a “witch bottle,” used to ward off evil spirits.

“An afflicted person would bury the nail-filled bottle under or near their hearth,” the release read. “With the idea that the heat from the hearth would energize the nails into breaking a witch’s spell.”

Jones says the discovery is “a good example of how a singular artifact can speak volumes.”

“It’s really a time capsule representing the experience of Civil War troops,” he said. “A window directly back into what these guys were going through occupying this fortification at this period in time.”

While the bottle may be centuries old, researchers can’t say with certainty whether the artifact was used for witchcraft. Jones explained that most witch bottles contain relics of those who buried them. The afflicted would add nail clippings, locks of hair and even urine to witch bottles. 

“Perhaps the nails in the bottle were put there not by enlisted men using the bottle as an expedient container,” Jones said. “But instead by an officer who felt especially threatened occupying hostile territory.”

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