What also marks these vessels is where they are found. Most are encountered during private restoration work of historic buildings, like this example from Greenwich. ‘Witch bottles’ have been recovered from inns, colleges, and domestic dwellings in both rural and urban settings and even ecclesiastical places. They are always found alone, and almost exclusively in one of three locations in the building:
- Beneath a floor
- Under a threshold or doorway
- Up or around a chimney or hearth.
So keep a look out!
Others have been recovered from archaeological excavations, and a few have been recovered from ditches, or next to watercourses including examples from the banks of the River Thames in London.
What should you do if you find a 17th century ‘witch bottle’?
The term ‘witch bottle’ gives the impression that there is a ‘witch’ inside a bottle. Don’t worry: you are not about to be cursed! Here are a few pointers on what to do if you find a 17th–century ‘witch bottle’ during the restoration of a historic building:
- ‘Witch bottles’ are covered by the Portable Antiquities Scheme, so most importantly, please contact your local Finds Liaison Officer based at your county museum and await their advice.
- Treat it as an archaeological find: if you can, please don’t move it - keep it in situ until it has been validated and reported. Record the position it was found in, take photographs and resist cleaning it.
- Similarly if it is corked or stoppered then please don’t remove this. As described, a bottle may have contents.
- If it has already been moved or un-stoppered in the past, we would still be really interested in hearing about it.
- Report your find to the ‘Bottles Concealed and Revealed’ team
The ‘Bottles concealed and revealed’ project will be the most comprehensive synthesis of evidence relating to the 17th-century ‘witch bottle’ phenomenon to date, and we will be grateful to hear from anyone with something to contribute.
As it stands, the practice has never been fully contextualised, with previous scholarship portraying ‘witch bottles’ as random and individual acts to ward off or trap ‘witches’. We hope to elevate ‘witch bottles’ and their known contents from a limited data set to a comprehensive national collection. Find out more about the 'Bottles concealed and revealed' project here.