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Mummified cat walled up in 17th century 'witch's cottage'

By Bryony Jones, CNN
updated 7:35 AM EST, Mon December 12, 2011
Hundreds of people were accused of witchcraft during witch hunts in the 17th century, most famously in Salem, Massachusetts.
Hundreds of people were accused of witchcraft during witch hunts in the 17th century, most famously in Salem, Massachusetts.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Mummified cat found sealed inside wall of cottage hidden beneath earth mound
  • Discovery in shadow of Pendle Hill, home to one of England's most notorious witch trials
  • Experts say superstitious residents may have buried cat alive to ward off evil spirits

London (CNN) -- Engineers have uncovered the haunting remains of a mummified cat bricked up inside the wall of a cottage near the site of one of Britain's most infamous witch trials.

Workers made the startling discovery during routine maintenance on a reservoir in the shadow of Pendle Hill in Lancashire, England's "witching country."

They called in archaeologists, who unearthed a cottage believed to date from the 17th century buried beneath a grassy mound. Inside, they found a sealed room where the cat had been walled up.

The area is famous for the Pendle witch trials, which saw 10 women and two men accused of using witchcraft to murder people in the 1600s.

It is thought the unfortunate feline may have been buried alive by the cottage's superstitious inhabitants, in an attempt to protect them from evil spirits.

"It's not often you come across a fairytale cottage complete with witch's cat," said Carl Sanders, project manager for water company United Utilities. "The building is in remarkable condition. You can walk through it and get a real sense that you're peering into the past.

Whoever consigned this cat to such a horrible fate was clearly seeking protection from evil spirits
Simon Entwhistle

"Pendle Hill has a real aura about it -- it's hard not to be affected by the place. Even before we discovered the building, there were lots of jokes from the lads about broomsticks and black cats. The find has really stunned us all."

Simon Entwhistle, an expert on the Pendle witches, likened the find -- which he said could be the Malkin Tower, site of a notorious meeting of the "coven" on Good Friday, 1612 -- to "discovering Tutankhamun's tomb."

"We are just a few months away from the 400th anniversary of the Pendle witch trials, and here we have an incredibly rare find, right in the heart of witching country.

"Cats feature prominently in folklore about witches," said Entwhistle. "Whoever consigned this cat to such a horrible fate was clearly seeking protection from evil spirits. It's an absolutely spellbinding discovery."

"It's like discovering your own little Pompei," said Frank Giecco of NP Archaeology, who led the team which excavated the building. "We rarely get the opportunity to work with something so well preserved.

"As soon as we started digging we found the tops of doors and knew we were onto something special.

"The building is a microcosm for the rise and fall of this area, from the time of the Pendle witches to the industrial age -- there are layers of local history right before your eyes."

Archaeologists also uncovered a host of other artifacts in and around the cottage -- including a 19th century kitchen range, tin bath, bedstead and items of crockery.

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