When people leave their homes or apartments today, they lock the door, set the burglar alarm, check the security camera with their cell phone, notify the neighbors, make sure the door is locked, let their pet alligator roam inside – anything to protect it from break-ins, disasters, or other unforeseen problems. What about guarding your domicile from evil spirits? Might as well stay home – unless you have a ‘magic’ dagger like the one found recently beneath a house in a lost medieval village in Scotland. Did it work? If it was lost, that means burglars or evil spirits didn’t find it either, right?
“Mineralised organic material on its blade suggests it was sheathed when buried, and that it was probably intact and still useable at that time. The form of this dagger is indistinguishable from Iron Age examples, indicating this simple dagger form had a very long history.”
As reported in Scottish Construction Now, the ‘magic’ dagger was the last artifact discovered by Transport Scotland workers getting ready to do M8, M73 and M74 improvements under the watchful eyes of GUARD Archaeology, which was contracted to protect any historic discoveries, especially since one area along M74 was the site where the tenth century Netherton Cross stone once stood – this oldest symbol of Christianity in the area was moved in the late 1800s or early 1900s. Gemma Cruickshanks of National Museums Scotland, was one of the people who analyzed the dagger and other metal artifacts and contributed to the official report. The remains of four medieval houses, pottery, gaming pieces and other objects date to between the beginning of the fourteenth century CE and the first quarter of the seventeenth century CE. (Photos, maps and drawings here.) There was also evidence of metalworking, iron smelting and blacksmithing. However, the dagger predates the village – possibly back to the Iron Age, which in Britain stretched from 800 BCE to 100 CE. Why was it there?
“The special or talismanic qualities of this dagger as a protective object may have enhanced the ritual act to protect the household from worldly and magical harm. The deposition of these objects under the foundation level of one of the houses may have been intended to affirm this space as a place of safety for them and generations to come.”
Natasha Ferguson, another of the researchers and study co-authors, explains that the ‘magic’ dagger may have been an Iron Age replacement for “elf-bolts” – small triangular fossils of Belemnites, an extinct order of squid-like cephalopods — which many prehistoric cultures believed had magical qualities. Ancient Scots believed they were arrows shot by elves to kill cattle, which ironically could be saved by dipping the “elf-bolt” into water and allowing the cow to drink it. The elf-bolts were also believed to be shot by evil spirits, the devil and even witches. On the positive side, finding them allowed the new owner to use those magical powers to protect their home. Those who didn’t believe in elf-bolts but still wanted protection switched to daggers, and those have been found under many medieval structures.
If you were paying attention, this magic dagger was discovered during work on the M74, which means the homes it was supposed to protect were underneath it. The dagger could stop evil spirits but not progress. In the 18th century, the estate the village was on belonged to the Dukes of Hamilton, who turned it into a “well-ordered and symmetrical parkland with wide avenues and enclosures.” That attracted visitors and the construction of M74 to get them there, which covered the remaining four houses and the magic dagger.
To be on the safe side, the M74 road crews may want to avoid stepping on any elf-bolts.