Thirty lead tablets have been found at the bottom of an old well in Athens, Greece. The tablets, which date back 2,500 years, were located in Athens’ main burial ground of Kerameikos and were engraved with ancient curses asking the gods of the underworld to do harm to those mentioned in the curse. “The person that ordered a curse is never mentioned by name, only the recipient,” explained Dr. Jutta Stroszeck who is the director of the Kerameikos excavation on behalf of the German Archaeological Institute in Athens.
The well was excavated in 2016 when a dig was conducted to look at the water supply to a bathhouse close to the Dipylon city-gate. In addition to the cursed tablets, archaeologists discovered several other artifacts including wine-mixing vessels, cups, cooking pots, clay lamps, bronze coins, and a wooden trinket box. Pictures can be seen here.
The cursed tablets were all made of lead, meaning that they would have poisoned the water. Since conducting hexes were not allowed in Athens during that time, those who wished to do harm to others had to find more creative ways of conducting their curses which is why they threw the lead tablets into the wells.
The ancient Greeks did, however, throw in gifts as a way of worshiping the water nymph. “Water, and in particular drinking water, was sacred,” Stroszeck explained, adding, “In Greek religion, it was protected by nymphs who could become very mischievous when their water was treated badly.”
They believed that the water was a passage way to the underworld and that by throwing cursed tablets into the well, they would become “activated”. They would normally get professional curse writers to create the hexes, and then the tablets would be folded up and pierced by an iron nail before being thrown into the well where they would allegedly make their way to the underworld by the souls of the deceased.
So why exactly would someone want to curse another person? Archaeologists said that there were four primary reasons behind the curses: to be successful in business, to win a lawsuit, to come out victorious in athletic competitions, and for reasons of love and hatred.
This isn’t the first time that curses from that time period had been discovered. In fact, it was pretty common for ancient Greeks to have put curses in the tombs of the deceased in order to carry the spells to the underworld. One example was when researchers discovered cursed tablets buried in a young woman’s grave in Piraeus, Greece.