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Unstoppering a 17th-century 'witch bottle' at the Pitt Rivers Museum

Unstoppering a 17th-century 'witch bottle' at the Pitt Rivers Museum

On Tuesday 18 May, presenter Raksha Dave broadcasted live on Facebook from the Pitt Rivers Museum, as a team of our archaeological experts unstoppered a 17th-century ‘witch bottle’. ‘Witch bottles’ is the name given to 17th–century glass and stoneware vessels believed to have been used as the containers of a ‘prepared cure’ against bewitchment. Their contents most commonly include pins and nails, but sometimes nail clippings and hair from the afflicted individual. They have been found placed in hearths or beneath the floors of present-day historic buildings, churchyards, ditches and riverbanks or are recovered from archaeological sites. The bottle opened at this very special event was found in 1893 in what was thought to be the courtyard or garden of the former Duke of Norfolk's Palace in Norwich. It was opened before at some point in its past, but had been re-sealed, contents and all. About the project team: Leading the event are the expert team from ‘Bottles concealed and revealed’, a three-year project funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council to recalibrate understandings of the phenomenon of mid-late 17th century ‘witch bottles’ in England. The project is led by MOLA Finds Specialist Nigel Jeffries as Principal Investigator in collaboration with Michael Marshall (MOLA) and Co-Investigators Professor Owen Davies and Dr Ceri Houlbrook from the University of Hertfordshire, who specialise in the study of magic, witchcraft, and popular medicine. The project was recently the subject of a short film for BBC Arts: 'The Life and Times of a Witch Bottle'. About Raksha Dave: Raksha Dave is a public archaeologist and broadcaster, whose time on screen began in 2003 with a decade long stint on the popular Channel 4 series Time Team. She has since presented and co-presented documentaries, series and mini-series, most recently Bone Detectives, Digging Up Britain's Past, Tutankhamun: Life, Death and Legacy, and The Great Plague. Raksha acts as an advocate and consultant for various arts organisations looking to broaden audience participation by looking at ways to encourage diversity and inclusivity in their environments. About Faye Balsey: Faye joined the Pitt Rivers Museum in 2008 and has worked in various roles in the ethnography and archaeology section as Assistant Curator and Deputy Head of Collections. She has curated numerous exhibitions and participated and contributed collections research and digitisation projects. In 2018, Faye organised the annual Museum Ethnographers Group conference held at the Pitt Rivers Museum on the topic ‘Decolonising the Museum in Practice', and gave a paper on a similar theme – 'Privileging Knowledge: Whose right is it?' – at the 2018 International Council of Museums documentation group conference. #WitchBottleLive
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