Archaeologists are investigating ‘witches’ marks’ found carved into the ruins of a medieval church that stood in England 700 years ago.
The crumbled structure was uncovered in Stoke Mandeville during a construction project for a high-speed railway that is set to span across the country.
Researchers with HSR, the company involved with the project, spotted engravings on various stones of what was once St. Mary’s, which have a central drilled hole with lines etched from it that form a circle.
Historians say the markings were used ‘to ward off evil spirits by entrapping them in an endless line or maze.’
Witches' marks, or 'apotropaic' marks, are from the Greek word apotrepein, 'to turn away' and are to protect the inhabitants from evil spirits.
The church of St. Mary was built around 1070, following the Norman Conquest, and experts believe it was the first private church belonging to the lord of the manor at the time.
In the 1340s, the structure was extended into a place of worship for the entire village.
It was abandoned in the 19th century and condemned in the 20th century, leaving behind a few ruins and old graves stones for the public to view.
The site is in the middle of the railway project and HS2 archaeologists were clearing it when they stumbled upon the ancient graffiti.
Michael Court, Lead Archaeologist at HS2 Ltd said: ‘The archaeology work being undertaken as part of the HS2 project is allowing us to reveal years of heritage and British history and share it with the world.’
‘Discoveries such as these unusual markings have opened up discussions as to their purpose and usage, offering a fascinating insight into the past.’
Such markings have been seen on other churches, but instead of offering protection they were used as sun dials.
Called ‘scratch dials,’ the carvings were typically placed close to the southern door of the church – an area to best capture the rays.
However, the position of the markings on St. Mary’s does not line up with the idea and leaves the possibility that they were used for protection.
These so-called witches’ marks have been found not just on churches, but etched in homes, barns and caves.
The marks were usually inscribed into stone or woodwork near a building’s entrance points - particularly doorways, windows and fireplaces.
Hundreds of these markings were found adorning the inside of limestone caves at Creswell Crags on the border between Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire last year.
The marks were previously thought to have been graffiti from the time before the caves were shut off.
Paul Baker, the director of Creswell Heritage Trust, said the marks had been visible for decades, but never truly understood.
'But we told people it was Victorian graffiti,' he told The Guardian.
'We had no idea. Can you imagine how stupid we felt?'
© Associated Newspapers Ltd.