In June 1836, three Scottish boys set out to hunt rabbits. On the northeast slopes of Edinburgh's Arthur's Seat they unearthed a cache of miniature coffins that till this day are unexplained.
Were they part of a satanic spell, fetishes connected to Edinburgh's underworld history or innocent charms that were part of a local superstition?
Originally the boys found 17 coffins which were arranged under slates in two tiers, and a single one on the top. They were each about 3.5 inches in length and contained a little figure made of wood. They were well-carved and dressed in different, individual clothing that had been stitched and glued around them.
Not all of them survived, as the boys started pelting them with rocks, not understanding the significance of their find. Eventually they were displayed in Robert Frazier's private museum on South Andrews Street. In 1845, he closed the museum and auctioned off the collection which then passed on into private hands. In 1901, they surfaced again when eight of them along with their contents were donated to the National Museum of Scotland.
In 1976 Walter Havernick, the Director of the Museum of Hamburg History proposed another theory as to why the little figures were made. He referred to a German seafaring belief of keeping mandrake roots fashioned as dolls in coffins which acted as talismans. Even though the used of charms was found in Scotland well into the 19th century, no evidence has ever been found for this German tradition.
In the 1990s, Professor Samuel Menefee and Dr. Allen Simpson analyzed the dolls closer. They found that they had been made by the same person, and based on some of the materials and tools used it appears it was a shoemaker. The coffins could have been made by two different persons. There is a suspicion that they were originally made as toy soldiers due to their swinging arms, flat feet and upright bearing. Even though some had missing arms, it's believed this was done so they would fit inside the small coffins, and the fabric used to dress them date back only to the early 1830s, which indicate they had only been stashed in the hillside at the most six years.
Some have looked at a possible connection to the Edinburgh body-snatchers Burke and Hare who ultimately were caught and convicted of their murder spree, however it seems doubtful and twelve of their victims were female, and all the dolls were portrayed as male.
When they were discovered, the local newspaper theorized if the dolls were part of witchcraft death spell or satanists using the dolls in some type of rituals.
Until this day the true purpose of the dolls remains a mystery, as does the identity of the person who clothed and buried them in a small niche on a hillside.
Source - Smithsonian
Stranger Than Fiction Stories by Marlene Pardo Pellicer