For those who say that living on the Channel Island of Jersey is a curse, you may finally have someone to blame. A metal detectorist (some say being married to one of these hobbyists is a curse too, but I digress) scanning a field Jersey found a small piece of lead folded a the style of curse tablets – sheets engraved with requested spells on specific individuals that were common in ancient Greece and Rome. Did this one work?
There are a number of mysteries surrounding this particular curse tablet, not the least of which is its contents. The Jersey Evening Post reports that metal detectorist Ken Rive found the square inch piece in a field in the Saint Brélade parish of Jersey. If it’s a curse tablet, it’s the first to ever be found on a Channel Island. That may be why the location of the field is being kept a secret. It may also be because that wasn’t all Rive detected – the Post alludes to other “yet to be publicly announced” items in the field.
Then there’s the tablet itself. Is it safe to be opened … cursed or otherwise? Robert Waterhouse, field archaeologist for the Société Jersiaise who dated the tablet to between the 1st and 3rd Century CE, doesn’t want to be the who unfolds it.
“Opening a curse tablet is fraught with difficulties. They are very delicate and if we do ever decide to open it, it will have to be done by [Jersey Heritage Museum conservator] Neil Mahrer.”
Waterhouse doesn’t want to be cursed with the nickname “Artifact Arse” or whatever archeologists call someone who wrecks ancient relics. But what about the curse itself? If this is indeed a curse tablet, the reason for its owner requesting a spell from a god, spirit or deceased relative was often either for a romantic jilting or for a small and sometimes trivial offense.
Greek curse tablets often contained requests to affect the outcomes of court cases or punish the opposing party in the event they win the case. Others asked for revenge on cheating spouses or for help in attracting a non-cheating-but-easy-to-spellbind one. The famous Bath curse tablets found in Bath, England, cursed people who stole clothing, money and towels at the baths. Some things never change and it doesn’t seem curse tablets were an effective deterrent.
What curse is written on the buried tablet found by metal detectorist Ken Rive? Why is it on the Island of Jersey? Perhaps the spell-seeker was lost and meant to bury the tablet in ‘New’ Jersey. Now THERE’S a place where people feel like they’ve been cursed.