Saveok Mill Site
Greenbottom, Cornwall, England * http://www.archaeologyonline.org/index.html *
A small local farm in Greenbottom, Saveok Mill has placed itself on the archaeological map when resident Jacqui Wood discovered very curious archaeological features in her backyard when clearing the ground for a metal-work furnace on her land as one of her experimental archaeology projects. The current property, as “Saveok Mill” or now “Saveok Water”, is in its current evolution from the 17th century as a standing farm or community of 5 houses that once housed occupants who had worked at the local mill. When Jacqui Woods moved onto the property as her new home, little did she know what laid beneath her feet but none-other but an Archaeologist’s fantasy. Jacqui Woods, one of the world’s authorities on Prehistoric Cooking as well as Experimental Archaeology, who was also the consultant on the 1991 world famous discovery of the “Ice Man” could not believe her eyes with what she was uncovering. Since discovery, she has been excavating the finds at Saveok for at least the last 8 years. Jacqui has turned Saveok Mill into a Center for Experimental Archaeology, as well as home to archaeological field school sessions run and operated by herself. I first heard about the site in Archaeological Institute of America’s “Archaeology Magazine” article on the Cornwall Witches. Having been a subject of speciality for my graduate work research on the study of modern day Witches – this article struck a cord of harmonization within me as a means of continuing my research. I was extremely excited to visit this site that was revealing amongst the world’s first evidence of ritualistic practices of this nature all in one place. I made arrangements to visit with Jacqui in June of 2010.
Nestled in a sheltered river valley in Mid Cornwall England appears to be a ritualistic site that has been utilized as such for hundreds, if not thousands of years. The site dates from the Mesolithic (7,000-3,500 BCE) upwards to the 17th century of the Common Era (C.E.). Exposed in a trench along the south facing peak pank on the bend of the river between two shallow lakes were revealed Mesolithic remains ranging from evidence of dwellings, stone tools, and lithics. There are also well-preserved Animal Hoof prints along what was once the river or lake bed shoreline. Through time, this entire site was purposely covered over with various clays to make the river bank a suitable place for dwellings through the years. In an area that Jacqui Wood (excavation director and site manager) has labelled “A/2” there has been found the first phase of the site that is believed to be the Mesolithic dwelling platform (approximately 8,500 B.C.E. (Before the Common Era)) which is covered by a dense green clay floor surrounded by stony yellow clay in which stake holes were found to support the dwellings were driven. The next site phase determined appears to be a Neolithic ritual area was a series of Spring pools that may have been utilized as ‘purification pools’ or ‘sacred wells/springs’ through the ages. This natural spring line were large rectangular pools stone-lined with white quartz cores. As of this writing, there are at least two such pools on the site. Patterns of the stone lining, pool contents, and the seasonal filling of the second pool appears to have religious or ritualistic usage. Both of these features are very unique in Cornish archaeology – the only other such find was under the Maeshowe monument in Orkney that had a similar stone lined drain. The next phase of the site appears to have had ritualistic use by means of offering pits (upward of 35) primarily swan-feather lined with imported pebbles or additional elements in them that date from the late 1500’s to the 1640’s onward. Use of such offering pits during a period of turmoil in England when Cromwellian Puritans destroyed much of pre-Christian Pagan England along the countryside would not only have been extremely dangerous to practice, but simply unheard of for the time period as the practice of witchcraft often led to a death sentence. These offering pits are believed to be evidence of Cornwall Witchcraft practice throughout the ages. While lineage or written evidence for the site is lacking, the remains are vast and tie into much of the lore, practices, and belief systems utilized by Paganism in the area – standing as the most common-sense theory at this point in the investigations. These practices may or may not have been done by the former 17th century residents who built the dwellings that currently exist on the site. But some of the offering pits were certainly dug during their occupation. Ethnographic discussions with locals suggests that some of the land’s residents, the Burnett’s, were reputedly witches. Since anti-witchcraft laws were in place since 1541, their participation in these activities would have definitely remained hidden, for at this time the King James version of the Bible at the time declared into law that “thou shalt not suffer a witch to live“. [Exodus 22:17] The stone-line spring may have been utilized as a ‘holy well’ by these residents as well as its prehistoric use as such. The spring was packed full of ‘offerings’ dating to at least the 17th century including 125 strips of cloth from dresses and clothing, as well as pins, remains of a cauldron, cherry stones, human hair, shoe parts, imported heather branches, and nail clippings – all very commonly used offerings to sacred springs and wells. Modern day applications of these elements can be found existing in sacred wells and springs throughout the Cornish landscape today. Pins and cloth are common offerings to wells. Heather branches are associated with luck. The scraps of clothing could potentially have been remnants of ‘clotiers’ that are found around most of the wells throughout the United Kingdom and Ireland perhaps from a tree that was alongside the spring or just offered into the pool directly. (see modern example in article on “St Madron’s Well” located 25 miles from this site) This Well and/or Spring had sometime after the time of Cromwell had been filled in and destroyed in order to hide the practices that were taking place on this site since at least Neolithic times. The death penalty for the practice of Witchcraft officially ended in 1735 and by that time, evidence of this ritual site was covered over, and later residents of the site would have not been aware of what lie beneath.
The presumed ritualistic “offering pits” are generally 40 cm sq. x 17 cm depth earthen dug pits that were primarily carefully lined with the intact pelts of a swan and other bird remains such as claws and beaks from different species. Some of the pits had other animal elements including pigs, dogs, and cats. One was lined with the skin of a black cat and contained 22 eggs – all with chicks close to hatching, as well as cat claws, teeth, and whiskers. Another had a dog skin, dog teeth, and a baked pig jaw. Another pit had a mysterious 7 inch iron disk with a swan skin on one side and animal fur on the other. Based on ritualistic comparisons from Celtic Paganism, Witchcraft, Santeria, and Voodoo – such offering pits are common practice for fertility spells, sacrifice, and magical intentions. The abundant use of swan feathers, suggest fertility in this case, and based on local folklore could have been offering pits to the Goddess Brigid (now the Catholic St. Brigid) as per interviews with local witches and folklorists determined due to Brigid’s association with swans and fertility magic. According to local folklore and beliefs – the swan feathers associated with fertility were possibly offered her to promote conception. If conception took place – then 9 months later the person would return to empty the pit. This is the current explanation for some of the empty pits that were found. Some of the pits also contained leaf parcels of imported stones that have been traced to Swanpool Beach which is approximately 15 miles away from the site – a area famous for its population of swans. Not only were these practices at this time dangerous because of Cromwell, but the act of killing a swan would have been risky throughout English history as swans belong directly to the Crown. In addition within these feather pits were found over 57 unhatched eggs ranging in size from bantams to ducks that were flanked by the bodies of two magpies. Magpies are birds very tied to Cornish folklore and also seen as taboo to be utilized in such a way. These organic remains had incredible preservation on this site due to the Spring’s water-logged ground and mineral content. Radiocarbon dates of some of the swan feather fits date to 1640. The cat pit dates to the 18th century and the dog pit dates to the 1950’s. The combination of the holy well/spring, remains of the cauldron, ritual offerings to the well, swan feather lined offering pits, and other ritualistic evidence strongly suggested that this site was a ritual place for Cornish Witches. If this is the case, then Saveok Mill serves as one of the world’s best examples of sites of this kind since much of Witchcraft practice through the ages prior existed only in witches bottles and remains found in Salem, Massachussetts in the New World. Much of this fabled history, ressurrected by modern day Witches or continued by family tradition witches in the local area, has been buried in secrecy and buried underneath intentional cloaks of mystery. Until the modern era of the practice, written records of this religious movement and/or practice was next to non-existent.
In addition today for Saveok being a Archaeological Center and Site, as well as a training ground for future archaeologists, the location also serves for the groundbreaking launch ground for a number of Experimental Archaeology projects. Jacqui Wood through the last several years has been working on developing a re-created Iron Age village with roundhouses, kilns, and structures to explore into the lifeways of past. During my visit in June of 2010, I participated in their current project in Construction of an Iron Age Round House.
More photos and parts of the site:
- Preserved Animal Tracks along the ancient shoreline
- Ritual Offering Pits
- Purification or Votive Pools
More Pictures and Story to come …
- Additional Resources:
- Witches of Cornwall: http://www.archaeology.org/0811/etc/witches.html
Path to and from the Site:
Around Saveok Mill:
The Cats of Saveok:
The Round House:
Progress on the Iron Age Roundhouse Reconstruction:
June 15, 2010
Ice Man Grass Skirt:
Photos and displays about Jacqui Wood’s reconstruction of the Ice Man’s Grass Skirt.
Reconstructed Kilns, Ovens, and Roundhouses – the Former Celtic Village Site:
Saveok Archaeology Sheep:
Areas of the Site:
- Site Map
- Area A1
- Area A2
- Area B1
- Area B2
- Area B3
- Area C
- Area EF
- Area I
- Area K
- Area L
- Area Wheat
- Area Oak
Area D: Copper Working Area:
This area of the site is purported to be where copper was worked. In the northwest corner of the trenches that Jacqui placed were remains of a intense fire and a temporary shelter. You can read details of the area at Jacqui’s site, linked above.
Various Artifacts Found Between the Pools and the Pits:
Ceramics and teeth that was mineralized like turquoise from copper elements in the soil:
Views around Saveok: (6/16/10)