Curse tablets found at the bottom of a 2500-year-old well to harm another

(ORDO NEWS) — Thirty lead curse tablets were discovered at the bottom of an ancient well in Athens. The well was discovered at Keramikos, the main cemetery of ancient Athens, built in the quarter of potters (keramos means potter’s clay).

The vast area was formerly crossed by the Eridanos River. Its winding path was the main artery for wells, due to the lack of fresh water in Athens, public and private wells were dug in Keramikos.

In 2011, the German Archaeological Institute, which has been excavating at the site since 1913, started a research project to document, map and excavate the Kerameikos wells, and today there are more than 40 of them.

Borehole B 34 was discovered in the courtyard of a public bath in front of Dipylon.

The round shaft of the well was built in the 4th century BC from polygonal limestone blocks built using the ledge technique – layers of rings that started at the bottom decreased in diameter as they rose upwards.

The diameter at the bottom of the well is 9.5 feet. The top diameter is 3.6 feet. The well mouth was framed with tuff stone, an unusual material for Greek well mouths, where marble or white limestone was commonly used.

Groundwater filled the well to almost 23 feet, making excavation difficult. The team had to use four water pumps to clean the well shaft enough to carry out earthworks.

They found many objects at the bottom: clay lamps, talons (i.e. knuckles) for playing dice, bronze coins, cooking pots, drinking vessels (Scythians), vessels for mixing water and wine (craters), pots with a handle and a wide neck, used to draw water from a well.

The swampy environment preserved some organic remains, including peach pits, a pottery scraper, and a small wooden box.

A fragment of a wooden guide roller disk was found, part of a kelonion, a pivoting beam mechanism that lowered and raised vessels to collect water.

Found in the well, a finely carved cylindrical piece of Pentelic marble with the remains of a heavily corroded iron chain attached to its upper side was also part of the mechanism. It was a counterpoint.

This well has been in use for almost a thousand years, from a period of decline after wars, such as the siege by Sulla and the burning of Athens in 86 BC, or the plague.

The Slavic invasions at the end of the 6th century AD ended its use as a well for good, which was probably for the best considering how much lead had soaked into it over 800 years or so.

Lead tablets found in it were cursed. They belong to earlier years, to the 4th century BC and later. Burying curses with the dead was a common practice during the classical period.

In tombs excavated at Kerameyka, 35 lead curses have been found, especially in the graves of children and war dead.

It was believed that the spirits of people who died suddenly or prematurely hovered around the burial place, and were ideal messengers to convey curses to the gods of hell.

Wells and sacred pools were also seen as a path to chthonic deities.

The public bath well, almost certainly in active use at night, as evidenced by the clay lamps found at the bottom of the well, would have been a very convenient place for cursing the gods below.

The waters in the rivers and wells, guarded by nymphs, were thought to provide direct access to the underworld, says excavation leader Dr. Jutta Dr. Stroszek. It was believed that if you throw a curse into the well, it will activate.

The 30 tablets were documented using reflective imaging, a digital technique that allows even the smallest lead inscriptions to be read.

Archaeologists hope to eventually learn the name of the nymph, the nature of the curses, and whether the targets of the curse were any of the known Athenians who lived in the city in the late fourth century BC.


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