Curator's Choice Archives
In January 1983, preceding construction of a wastewater treatment facility, Mid-Atlantic Archaeological Research, Inc. (MAAR) conducted Phase I and II archaeological investigations at the University of Maryland Center for Environmental and Estuarine Studies at Horn Point in Dorchester County, Maryland. One of the sites identified during these excavations was the White Oak site, a tenant house or possible slave quarter, which dates to the mid-19th to early 20th centuries (Schiek and Goodley 1984: II-17).
A wine bottle neck (Figure 1) was recovered from a hearth or chimney
at the rear of a brick structure at the White Oak site (Schiek and
Goodley 1984: II-4). While wine bottle glass is far from uncommon
on domestic sites, this bottle neck had special significance because,
when excavated, it “contained a portion of a solid stopper into
which had been inserted, on both the inside and the outside, nickel-plated
copper straight pins” (Schiek and Thomas 1983: II-3). This collection
of objects indicated archaeologists had found the remains of a “witch
The witch bottle from the White Oak site (Figure 1) is broken and incomplete.
At some point in the past, the main body and base of the bottle
was destroyed, leaving only the bottle’s neck and lip and the pins.
Any urine that may have been present in the bottle would have been
absorbed into the surrounding soil when the bottle was broken or
it may have slowly leaked from the bottle as the sealed stopper
began to degrade. It was recovered from a layer which also contained
melted green bottle glass, bone, and a horse shoe (Schiek and Thomas
1983: II-3). Some of the bottle glass may have been part of the
original bottle and the bone and horseshoe may have been associated
with the ritual burial, as bone and iron, usually in the form of
nails, have been found with witch bottle burials from the 17th and
18th centuries in both America and England (Becker 2005: 18). Also,
in folk practice, iron in any form holds its own protective powers.