The last known witch grave in Scotland

Have archaeologists found the last known witch grave in Scotland?

(Read the article on one page)

Archaeologists in Scotland believe that they have located the final resting place of Lilias Adie, who was accused of being a witch and, following her death in prison, was buried in deep mud with a heavy flat stone placed on top of her – a tradition based on the belief that witches could rise from their graves unless held down by a heavy stone.

The Valleyfield Community Centre based in Fife, Scotland, recounts the story of the Lilias:

In the small village of Torryburn in the West of Fife in the year 1704 August 29th, an old woman, Lillias Adie, was accused of bringing ill health to one of her neighbours, a certain Jean Nelson. Summoned before the ministers and elders of Torryburn church, poor old confused Lillias confessed that she was indeed a witch. She told the grim faced committee of church elders that she had met the Devil in a cornfield and had accepted him as her lover and master. The terrified woman described how she and the devil had led many others, whom she named, in a wild heathenish dance. According to Lillias a strange blue unearthly light had appeared and had followed the dancers round the cornfield, her tales grew wilder and wilder and were eagerly accepted as proof of her dealings with the Devil. Lillias was, according to the official records, "Died in Prison and was buried within the sea mark at Torryburn.

According to the BBC, Lilias was then buried in thick mud between the high tide and low tide mark, with a stone slap on top. This was a rather unusual occurrence, as most witches were not honoured with a burial, but were instead dumped into pits.

“One possibility is that Lilias killed herself,” writes Louise Yeoman from BBC Scotland. “Right up to the 19th Century suicide victims were buried this way on the shore, outside consecrated ground.”

According to local folklore, corpses of people who had died a bad death, such as suicides and executed people, could come back from the dead to torment the living. The same belief was applied to witches. For this reason, heavy stones were placed on top of such burials to prevent the deceased from leaving their grave. 

IHeavy stone placed on top of a witch burial at St Anne's Church

Heavy stone placed on top of a witch burial at St Anne's Church, Woodplumpton, Lancashire, England. ( Wikimedia)

Disturbed grave

During the 19 th century, Lilias’ grave was disturbed and parts of her body were sold on the antiquities market. Her skull was sent to St Andrews University Museum. However, some time during the 20 th century, her skull went missing and has never been recovered.

The skull of Lilias Adie

The skull of Lilias Adie, which was displayed at St Andrews University Museum. Credit: National Library of Scotland

As part of a programme titled ‘The Walking Dead’, on BBC Radio Scotland, researchers tried to trace the original burial site of Lilias, based on 19 th century descriptions of the area.

During the investigation, a large, seaweed-covered stone slab was found, matching the description of both the area and the features of the burial. Fife archaeologist Douglas Speirs, who examined and cleaned it, confirmed the slab was not natural to the beach but quarried and deliberately placed there.

“It had in its middle a small dimple which might have been mistaken as the socket for an iron ring,” writes Ms Yeoman. “This, we think, is Lillias's stone, but is there anything left of Lilias there?”

While a full archaeological excavation has not been undertaken, it is possible that there are still remains of Lilias left beneath the slab, in what is believed to be the only known witch’s grave of its type in Scotland.

Featured image: Fife Council archaeologist Douglas Speirs uncovered the Torryburn slab. Credit: BBC

By April Holloway

Comments

angieblackmon's picture

Why do people steal body parts? I mean aside from putting in on a shelf what is gained from that?

love, light and blessings

AB

The last witch to be executed in Scotland was Janet Horne who was burnt to death in 1727

rbflooringinstall's picture

Interesting story. I wonder how she killed herself.

Peace and Love,

Ricky.

Register to become part of our active community, get updates, receive a monthly newsletter, and enjoy the benefits and rewards of our member point system OR just post your comment below as a Guest.

Human Origins

Map of sites and postulated migratory pathways associated with modern humans dispersing across Asia during the Late Pleistocene.
Most people are now familiar with the traditional "Out of Africa" model: modern humans evolved in Africa and then dispersed across Asia and reached Australia in a single wave about 60,000 years ago. However, technological advances in DNA analysis and other fossil identification techniques, as well as an emphasis on multidisciplinary research

Ancient Technology

Detail of a star chart dating to the Middle Kingdom.
The calendar is one of mankind’s most important inventions. Calendars allowed societies to organize time for religious, social, economic, and administrative purposes. The calendar, or rather, two sets of calendars, were invented by the ancient Egyptians. One of these was a lunar calendar, which was used mainly for the organization of religious festivals.

Ancient Places

Smuts house
The farmstead of General Jan Smuts on the outskirts of Pretoria, is reputed to be one of the most haunted private homes in the country, according to Mr Mark Rose-Christie, raconteur and social scientist, who regularly takes brave visitors on a tour of haunted sites on his mystery ghost bus.

Our Mission

At Ancient Origins, we believe that one of the most important fields of knowledge we can pursue as human beings is our beginnings. And while some people may seem content with the story as it stands, our view is that there exists countless mysteries, scientific anomalies and surprising artifacts that have yet to be discovered and explained.

The goal of Ancient Origins is to highlight recent archaeological discoveries, peer-reviewed academic research and evidence, as well as offering alternative viewpoints and explanations of science, archaeology, mythology, religion and history around the globe.

We’re the only Pop Archaeology site combining scientific research with out-of-the-box perspectives.

By bringing together top experts and authors, this archaeology website explores lost civilizations, examines sacred writings, tours ancient places, investigates ancient discoveries and questions mysterious happenings. Our open community is dedicated to digging into the origins of our species on planet earth, and question wherever the discoveries might take us. We seek to retell the story of our beginnings. 

Ancient Image Galleries

View from the Castle Gate (Burgtor). (Public Domain)
Door surrounded by roots of Tetrameles nudiflora in the Khmer temple of Ta Phrom, Angkor temple complex, located today in Cambodia. (CC BY-SA 3.0)
Cable car in the Xihai (West Sea) Grand Canyon (CC BY-SA 4.0)
Next article