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Palaces & Buildings

Archaeologists at Tower of London find ‘ritual protection’ to ward off evil

The Tower of London is perhaps England’s best known and premier fortress and has been for almost a thousand years, but now evidence has been found that its inhabitants sometimes felt far from safe.

Recent research has been carried out by archaeologists from the Museum of London Archaeology in the residence of the Queen’s representative in The Queen’s House. Archaeologists have found dozens of ritual protections marks burnt into the timber uprights holding up the roof, proving the inhabitants tried to use magic for an extra layer of protection. They have found a total of 54 marks, which are believed to have been put on the timber between the mid-16th and earlier 18th centuries, to protect the building from fire and lightning, but also from witches and the devil.

“The newly discovered marks shed interesting new light on life in the Tower of London in often troubled times,” said Alden Gregory, Historic Royal Palaces’ Curator of Historic Buildings.

There are several motifs, including a mesh that symbolised a net in which the devil or demons could be caught or could be prevented from entering the building. An additional discovery was a wheel-shaped symbol known as a hexafoil. The hexafoil was a means of trapping demons as it was thought they could only follow straight lines and would forever be caught in a circle. Markings were also located on an oak door within the Queen’s House. They were all vertical markings, 3 to 7 centimetres long and in groups.

The archaeologists have found more than just markings. They have also found a ritual deposit of animal bones and everyday objects that had been hidden away in a chimney void, probably in the early 18th century. The deposit consisted of cow bones, sheep bones, rabbit bones, five strips of leather, a broken blade tool and two broken clay pipes, which can represent a magical way of confusing and distracting the devil and demons.

Other markings are quite well-known at the Tower of London as prisoners would often scratch or burn into the walls or the timber to reveal theirs hopes, dream and fears, most of which can be seen to this day.