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Skeleton of village 'witch' to be re-buried

The excavation site near Hoo church where the body was found.
The excavation site near Hoo church where the body was found.

The medieval remains of a teenage girl who may have been suspected of witchcraft are to be given a Christian burial and funeral.

The skeleton, found by Faversham-based archaeologist Dr Paul Wilkinson, is thought to be from the 14th or 15th century.

It was found in unconsecrated ground under a holly tree, next to Hoo St Werburgh parish church, near Rochester.

The remains would normally be left in archives for future archaeological reference, but the vicar of Hoo, the Rev Andy Harding, has asked for the body to be returned so she can be re-buried in the church grounds.

Dr Wilkinson found the remains about six years ago after a dig requested by Simon Wright Homes, which they were obliged to perform before starting their development.

When they found the remains, the girl’s skull had been removed from the body and placed carefully beside it, meaning she may have either committed suicide or was suspected of being a witch or a criminal.

He said he had taken part in one other excavation, in Thanet, where discovered skeletons were "different".

He said: "The male and female there had been buried and their heads had been switched. She was buried facing east with her head very carefully placed beside her body."

Pottery found in the area dates back to medieval times and so it is suspected the body, which is currently being held at the University of Kent, was from the same period.

The bone structure of the skeleton indicates the remains are probably that of a female.

Mr Harding said: "We believe she was an executed criminal and so was not given the rights everyone else is. One of the things she could have been executed for is being a witch.

"We just want to give her a funeral that was denied to her at the time. At the end of the day, God will be our judge. She obviously came from Hoo so she will probably be buried close to the rest of her family."

Dr Wilkinson added: "It’s interesting that she will be rescued from a cardboard box and her journey will be finished in a manner that was not allowed her when she was first buried.

"I actually think it is rather wonderful."

The public funeral will be held at noon on Saturday, March 14.

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