Archaeologists unearth remains of ‘witches’ burned at the stake in 1679 for child murder

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Archaeologists made the chilling discovery 341 years after three women were accused of witchcraft and infanticide and were burned alive at the town’s market. Burning at the stake was a method of execution practised in the Medieval era – fifth to 15th centuries – although it was still carried out as late as the early 18th century. The painful execution was reserved for people accused of witchcraft and heresy, with its most famous victims including the English protestant bishop Hugh Latimer in 1555 and the French saint Joan of Arc in 1413.

Archaeologists in Poland came across the women’s remains during restoration works at Bochnia’s market.

Lead archaeologist Marcin Paternoga said: “We know there was an execution here in 1679 during which three women were burned.

“We have managed to dig up two skeletons. We continue our work, and we will undoubtedly come across another skeleton.”

The skeletal remains will be examined to confirm their cause of death, but there are many promising clues about their identities.

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The bones show signs of charring associated with high temperatures and the women would have been buried right on the spot where they were executed.

Mr Paternoga said: “In the Middle Ages and the Modern era it was normal practice for condemned people to be unworthy, dishonoured and not entitled to be buried in consecrated ground.

“An additional argument was the fact they were witches, that is people rejected by the Church who could not be buried in the cemetery, as well as a person convicted of theft, murder or suicide – they were buried in the spot of their execution.”

Historical sources suggest women accused of witchcraft were executed at least 13 times in Bochnia.

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Before being burned alive, the women were held in the nearby town hall where they were tortured.

The women would have been strapped to a Torture Rack, a device that used ropes to pull their limbs from their sockets, and if that did not force a confession, they would be burned.

Mr Paternoga said: “At this stage, we can see traces of high temperatures on the bones but an anthropological analysis will be important to confirm this.

“We will be able to carry it out only after removing these skeletons, and we will be able to do it when they are fully exposed.”

If the remains are of the three women were executed in Bochnia in 1679, the archaeologists expect to find a third skeleton nearby.

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According to Anetta Stachoń of the Stanisław Fischer Museum in Bochnia, there is a record of the women’s names and crimes.

The women were Regina Wierzbicka from Prandocin, and Maryna Mazurkowa and Borucina from Niedar on the Vistula.

The latter two were the teachers of the first and were accused of infanticide.

A 1995 report on the executions penned by Ms Stachoń states Wierzbicka admitted under torture to buying a newborn child to fake a pregnancy and force a man she was in love with to marry her.

Even more chillingly, the report goes on to state Borucina ordered Wierzbicka’s lover to kill the child and its veins were used to make an enchanted decoction.

The report reads: “Mazurkowa meanwhile admitted the child’s body was burned to a dust and then, on Borucina’s order, she and Wierzbicka had to drink a decoction from it.”

The executions were carried out in Bochnia’s market, where the stake was likely erected over a pit.

According to Ms Stachoń, the public display was meant to symbolically portray the witches falling to the depths of hell.

She said: “Accused of witchcraft in 1679, Regina Wierzbicka was tied by her arms and legs to a pole above the stake and burned alive.”

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