For centuries, humans have been concerned about the dead coming back to life.
Many people thought this could be stopped by putting a stone or brick in the mouth, experts said.
“Vampires” were thought to make their way out of the grave, unless something hard stopped them.
Archaeologists recently uncovered an example of a “vampire” burial in Poland with a scythe around the body’s neck to keep it from rising from the grave.
But there are other ways humans have prevented undead “vampires” from tormenting the living, one of which was putting a rock or brick in their mouth, experts told Insider.
Here are two examples of such burials discovered by archaeologists and what they mean according to experts.
A stone to stop the “vampire” Nachzehrer
In this case, a woman’s body was discovered in a 16th-century tomb in the Lazzaretto Nuovo, about 2 miles from Venice, Italy.
The woman, nicknamed “Carmilla” by the scientists who discovered her, was found with a brick in her mouth inside a mass grave, a bizarre ritual unlike other burials of the time.
Not much is known about her identity in life, but archaeologists know that she died during a deadly outbreak of bubonic plague.
“I had to find an explanation for someone who was actually manipulating the body of a person with a deadly disease,” Matteo Borrini, principal professor of forensic anthropology at Liverpool John Moore University, told Insider.
Borrini was the main scientist of the excavation. He conducted a careful forensic examination to find out what happened.
He discovered that the woman was probably thought to be a Nachzehrer, a type of vampire in Old European folklore.
“It’s not the classic idea that the vampire goes out and sucks people’s blood. It’s more someone who kills people from the grave before they can then rise again as a complete vampire,” he said.
“What I found is that there was this tradition that there were bodies that people believed were responsible for spreading the plague around. These bodies weren’t completely dead and were captured by some demonic influence,” Borrini said. , describing the old beliefs.
“And they were chewing their shroud inside their graves and spreading the plague in some kind of black magic,” he said.
Putting a brick in his mouth, according to these beliefs, would prevent the Nachzehrer from chewing the way out, thus protecting the living from disease.
However, Carmilla was not going to be considered a vampire in her life. Borrini’s work showed that the mass grave was reopened after Carmilla’s burial. At that point, her body, which was still wrapped in a shroud, was probably not completely decomposed.
Grave diggers, confronted with this apparently still fresh body with the decayed shroud around its mouth, may have thought the body was possessed and placed the brick in it.
A stone to prevent the soul from spreading disease
Researchers from the University of Arizona and Stanford University have found another example of a “vampire”. This was buried in a children’s cemetery on the site of the ancient Roman villa of Poggio Gramignano in Teverina, Italy.
The boy, who was about 10 years old, was buried in the 5th century during a deadly epidemic of malaria. A stone was also placed in the child’s mouth.
Jordan Wilson, the lead bioarchaeologist on the archaeological project of the Roman Villa of Poggio Gramignano, told Insider that the stone was likely there to prevent the child’s soul from entering or exiting the body.
“There is a very old idea that the breath is related to life and soul, and the mouth in particular as a kind of portal through which the soul exits after death,” he said.
The stone may have been a way to prevent the child’s body or spirit from spreading the disease or in general from tormenting the living. It may also have been a way to keep the child safe from witches, who were thought to be able to raise children from the dead and use their souls.
Vampires as vectors of disease
The myths of “vampires” have accompanied the death of humans for centuries.
They were ways to understand what could not be explained with the knowledge of the time, such as mysterious deaths during a contagious epidemic, Borrini said.
“These ‘vampires’ start hunting and killing family members first, then the neighbors and then the whole village. This is the classic pattern of a contagious disease,” he said.
Borrini defines a “vampire” as a dead man who rises from the dead like a body.
Wilson, however, argued that any myth in which a dead person can haunt the living, either through their spirit or their reanimated body, is part of “vampire” folklore.
“The idea that the dead can rise from the grave in a literal sense or that the dead, in a spiritual sense, can continue to afflict the living beyond death is something that is essentially present in almost all cultures and has very, very ancient origins. , ” she said.
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