The superstition is very ancient, e.g. a deposit that included frog bones appeared to have been deliberately placed beneath a massive timber during the construction of Danebury hill fort (Merrifield).
Human sacrifice for such ritual purposes was outlawed by the Romans (although it probably continued), but the Roman practice (common in the Med) of using small animals and birds continued in Britain and pots containing the bones of chickens and animals have been found buried beneath the floors of living areas in Roman dwellings (Merrifield and Baker M).
Hearths and thresholds seem to have been the best places for burying pots, animals (and even old iron tools and other objects) in order to protect the household. Then chimneys were built, creating an opening that left the household vulnerable leading to the practice of placing a 'protective' object up the chimney.
From: John Clark <[log in to unmask]>
To: [log in to unmask]
Sent: Tuesday, 6 August 2013, 8:41
Subject: Re: [BRITARCH] Foundation sacrifice
Linda Speight wrote:
>Off topic a bit, but these ancient rituals continued far longer than we realise!... There are examples in England of mummified cats etc. found bricked up in chimneys of old houses in England (see Ralph Merrifield 'The Archaeology of Ritual and Magic'....<
This rather begs the question - just how 'ancient' are such rituals?
In his discussion of 'mummified cats', Ralph Merrifield noted possible examples from the 16th century - but commented 'In archaeological excavation, foundation deposits are for obvious reasons more frequently encountered than ritual deposits placed higher in buildings.' But he goes on 'we must assume that protective magic has always been applied to vulnerable roofs... and to chimneys.'
Is it just the rarity of surviving buildings from before the 15th century with suitable hollow structures to place dead cats in that has led to a lack of discoveries - or did the custom only start with the first brick-built chimneys and fireplaces and cavity walls? Where did you place your dead cat in an open-raftered Anglo-Saxon hall?
Did animals in the walls replace animals in the foundations?