Excavating Witches

It was the obligatory Halloween content over at Bones Don’t Lie, but I had too much else on my plate to link to it then.

The question is, how can you tell if a buried ancient skeleton was that of a witch (in the anthropological sense)? Does the mouth full of iron nails mean something?

And by the way, what happened to the bodies of the “witches” of Salem?

Those latter unfortunate victims gave birth to such a present-day tourism boom that I am waiting for the local promoters to stage a “discovery,” as was done for King Henry II with “Arthur” and “Guinevere” at Glastonbury Abbey. (Assuming that you accept the explanation that the 12th-century “discovery” was a money-raising ploy to help rebuild the burnt abbey.)

One thought on “Excavating Witches

  1. Robert Mathiesen

    According to contemporary accounts, the bodies of the people executed at Salem for witchcraft in 1692 were never buried at all, but were dumped without ceremony in a ravine near their execution site and left unburied and uncovered for the wild beasts and the elements to devour. (I think this was the standard treatment given to the body of anyone who had been executed, whatever the crime, in the 1600s in Salem.)

    The two or three bodies that were removed by night from the ravine and given Christian burial by their families on family farms, were buried in secret, without any obvious grave markers. After all, burying one’s dead on one’s own land was quite common in many parts of old New England, and entirely legal, even in those towns that also maintained a common burying ground — and many towns did not have one, not before the 1700s or even the 1800s.

    Moreover, after all these centuries, no one really knows just where the condemned were hanged in Salem in the 1600s. In consequence, no one knows just which ravines — there were many — might have served as the dumping ground for their bodies. There are several theories, some more likely than others, but nothing approximating historical certainty. The tourist sites are no more likely than several other possibilities.

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