Objects may have been concealed over the centuries for numerous reasons. When trying to assess why a particular object was concealed, or a cache formed it is important to assess each case individually.
Here are some questions one may ask of the object(s) and the circumstances of concealment and discovery to ascertain why they may have been concealed:
1. What types of objects have been found? Have they been mutilated or altered that perhaps indicates a magical intent? Does the group of objects seem unusual in what it comprises? How many objects were found in the same space?
2. Where were the objects found? Could anyone have revisited the space easily? Were there any clues indicating their presence in the building before (re)discovery? How were the objects arranged or placed in the space?
Why was this corset concealed in the stone walls of a cottage? Front view of part of an 18th century whaleboned corset found in an 18th century thatched cottage in Pontarddulais, West Glamorgan, Wales. It was found within a thick stone wall lying in soil at the side of a fireplace. CG11
Image © Copyright 2002 Museum of Welsh Life
3. How was the cache (re)discovered? During alterations/repair to the building or during demolition? Or by chance?
The vast majority of objects found, including all garments so far recorded, had signs of considerable use and wear when concealed. There was/is also a belief that objects beyond their utilitarian life, or objects that belonged to an ancestor or other dead person took on protective powers.
Similarly, other objects have been deliberately altered or mutilated so they were beyond use. Examples of changes made to objects include coins found in pilgrim shrines that have been deliberately folded and knives, swords and other implements also found deliberately bent since Anglo-Saxon times. An excellent discussion of such practices is contained in Ralph Merrifield’s Archaeology of Ritual and Magic (1987).
These objects may have been concealed as a protective device to ward off evil and other maleficent forces or they may have been used as counter-magic to deflect a curse or other negative circumstance, such as illness or economic blight considered to be the consequence of malevolent spirits or witches, e.g. the use of witch bottles, charms and curses. Brian Hoggard, researcher, has conducted extensive studies into witch-bottles and other objects believed to be associated with ‘folk magic’. Many of his findings are presented on his website: Apotropaios.
The objects may also have been viewed as ‘lucky things’, perhaps heirlooms from an ancestor or from another person considered to be spiritually powerful and so they were perceived as lucky for the household. Or did builders constructing or altering a building or the householders themselves just want to leave their ‘mark’? It seems from knowledge of concealment practices that go on today, especially in the building trade, that it was likely that many of the concealments that have been discovered were made by craftsmen. This is also the case with ritual marks found on timbers and stone. Tim Easton, researcher, has recorded instances of ritual marks on buildings from all over the UK and Europe.
Or was it a practical joke? Builders or craftsmen working on a building may have ‘walled up’ something belonging to a co-worker for a joke.
One method of gaining a better understanding of the concealment of garments would be to research other folk traditions and superstitions surrounding both clothing and household buildings. Some sources are listed in the Articles section.
Debate still continues alongside research into concealed objects and folk magic and other folk traditions is continued. There is very little extant documentary material that describes concealment practices most likely because it may have been believed that speaking about the concealment may have reduced it’s ‘effect’. The context of the concealment must always be recorded and questioned before a reason for it is put forward.
Why do you think objects were/are concealed? Contact us.