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Burial of executed ‘witch girl’ uncovered in Italy

Jamie Seidel

SHE was only 15. So why was she starved, bound by the elbows, burnt — and then thrown into a pit under a heavy stone slab? In medieval Italy, she was probably seen as a witch.

All the fuss was likely to guarantee she could not return from the dead to curse her killers, archaeologists believe.

And she’s wasn’t the first. The remains of a 13-year-old girl were found near the same medieval monastery last year. She had been buried facedown.

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Italian researchers have unearthed the remains of the teenage girls at an archaeological dig at the San Calocero monastery in Albenga, near the Ligurian Riviera.

However, the two girls are not likely to be related. The youngest girl was likely buried between 1400 and 1500. The newly discovered body is likely more recent, though radiocarbon dates have not yet been established.

The archaeologists say their burials follow the pattern often applied to ‘deviants’, such as being buried with a brick in the mouth or being staked to the ground.

Witch girl ... The burial site of an anemic 15-year-old girl found near a medieval monastery. Picture: Stefano Roascio/Elena Dellù/
<a href="http://www.piac.it/" target="_blank">Pontifical Institute of Archaeology </a>

Witch girl … The burial site of an anemic 15-year-old girl found near a medieval monastery. Picture: Stefano Roascio/Elena Dellù/ Pontifical Institute of Archaeology Source:Supplied

BRUTAL DEATHS

Initial examinations of the 15-year-old’s remains show she may have been suffering from malnutrition and anaemia-induced iron deficiency. She was just 145cm (4.7 feet) tall.

“What we can say is that the skeleton, probably of a young woman, is totally burned, and not only on the pelvis and chest as assumed at first on the basis of the most obvious signs,” archeologist Stephen Roascio told Italian news service Savona. “We think she was burned elsewhere and then the body was brought here and thrown into a pit, without any care, except to cover it with at least one meter of stone slabs to prevent her return to life, according to the beliefs of the time.”

“She was taken by her elbows and just thrown in the pit,” anthropologist Elena Dellùtold Discovery News. “Her head leaned on the vertical wall of the pit, so that it was bent. Indeed, her chin almost touched the breastbone,” Dellù said.

A reconstruction, and 1600s painting, of the monastery where the ‘witch girl’ burials have been found. Source: 
<a href="http://www.comune.albenga.sv.it/servizi/informazioni/informazioni_fase03.aspx?ID=408" target="_blank">Commune di Albenga</a>

A reconstruction, and 1600s painting, of the monastery where the ‘witch girl’ burials have been found. Source: Commune di AlbengaSource:Supplied

Her likely pale skin, fainting spells and prolific bruising may have scared her community into believing she was possessed, or a witch, the archaeologists suggest.

In the case of the 13-year-old girl, her remains revealed she suffered from scurvy — a condition caused by a lack of vitamin C. The symptoms of this condition were also unusual and would often be interpreted as demonic possession.

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The region first trials for witchcraft were recorded in the 1300s, archaeologists say.

The excavation of the monastery is being led by Philippe Pergola, professor of topography of the Orbis Christianus Antiquus at the Pontifical Institute of Archaeology at the Vatican.

Rough justice ... A woman, judged to have been a witch, is dragged to her funeral pyre in the medieval Cotton Claudius Manuscript from 11th Century London.

Rough justice … A woman, judged to have been a witch, is dragged to her funeral pyre in the medieval Cotton Claudius Manuscript from 11th Century London.Source:Supplied