On the one hand, it might just be an old bottle that was used to store nails. But archaeologists who found it suspect something far more intriguing: They think Union soldiers used it as a "witch bottle" during the Civil War to fend off evil spirits, per a news release from William & Mary. If so, it would be one of only a dozen or so such bottles ever found in the US. The discovery came during a dig near Williamsburg as part of a project to widen Interstate 64. Archaeologists found the glass bottle, filled with nails, near an old hearth used by Civil War soldiers, reports Live Science. The bottle was made in Pennsylvania, and troops from that state once occupied this particular fortification. “It’s a good example of how a singular artifact can speak volumes,” says Joe Jones of the William & Mary Archaeological Center.
“It’s really a time capsule representing the experience of Civil War troops, a window directly back into what these guys were going through occupying this fortification at this period in time," he adds. As CNN explains, "witch bottles" were bottles stuffed with odds and ends (and usually urine) meant to trap demons. "They are placed near a hearth so the heat of the fire heats the nails, which helps trap and hold evil spirits," explains Jones. The practice is believed to have begun overseas in the Middle Ages and was brought to America by colonialists. In this case, traces of urine would help substantiate the theory, but because the neck of the bottle was broken, any liquid is long gone, notes the Washington Post. Still, the bottle's placement near the hearth makes the theory compelling, notes Jones. (Read more discoveries stories.)