9.18.2011

Burials: Zombies vs Vampires

This is a Renaissance woman in her 60s found a few years ago on Lazzaretto Nuovo off Venice - she'd died of plague, and been buried with a brick in her mouth, so the excavators suggested this was the only example found so far of the well attested by documents practise of burying suspected vampires in this manner. In 1576, when she was buried, the Venetians thought that the plague was spread by Vampires ...

I mentioned Mrs Vampire at the time of her discovery, as she was unusual not only for being a woman but also as a rather late example of such a burial. All other such 'vampire' burials were Medieval, and from Bohemia, the area of the former Czechoslovakia.

(An episode of Tomb Detectives covered vampire burials both in the early US and in Europe, but YouTube only allows US viewers to see it, so I have no idea if it's any good: YouTube preview here; US iTunes here)

In 1966, 10 km NE of Prague at Celakovice, 14 tenth century graves were found with some unusual characteristics: the corpses had been beheaded, and their mouths filled with earth and stones. 


In August 1999 an early Medieval woman was excavated at Olomouc in Moravia. The other bodies in the cemetery were aligned East-West, as is the Christian custom, but hers was aligned North-South - in addition her wrists and ankles were tied together, and she was buried face down. Her position showed she was considered to have been damned by her contemporaries. Other bodies were found which had been dismembered, suggesting some similar anger against them. 


It is difficult to be certain what those who buried these Damned in this way thought at the time, but the stones in the mouths and other deviant burials seem to have been to prevent the deceased from rising from the dead and bringing death back with them - there was no clear delineation between vampires rising from the dead and spreading death, and zombies doing so ... and both were described in sources as "living corpses" - but because these bodies were found in Central Europe, the home of the vampire myths, they were labelled as such by archaeologists.


The first recorded use of the term vampire was in 1047 to refer to a Russian prince and scientists now believe he may have been suffering from rabies. At some point the Bohemians  switched to driving a stake through the hearts of vampires, but in the early period burials with a stone in the mouth were the accepted 'cure' to prevent them coming back to life. If you want to know more about these mostly 11th and 12th century "unusual" Bohemian and Moravian burials there is an article in German available here - some burials were head down (eg 3), others prone and on their sides. The problem is that this period is when the area was becoming Christian so some burials which seem unusual might be old pagan practices, and others a sort of desecration of pagan corpses by Christians. 

The reason I've come back to the 'vampire' burials is that 8th century skeletons were just announced in Ireland, each with a stone in its mouth and hailed as a 'zombie' burial ...



The excavators believe that the stones were placed in the mouths of those being buried to stop the deceased from rising again and coming back to life. This makes them Zombies in the modern parlance, but would also qualify them to be classified as Vampires had they been found in Bohemia - because there is little differentiation between the two in the Medieval period (the differentiation and additional characteristics are modern.



The new Zombie bodies were found at Kilteasheen near Loch Key in County Roscommon, Ireland, in a cemetary used from the 7th to 14th centuries which contained some 3,000 skeletons in all, of which 137 have been excavated. Only two of the bodies had stones in their mouths. One was a man aged 40 to 60, the other a man in his early to mid 20s; they were buried next to each other, one on his back with a black stone, the other on his side. 

The excavators describe Kilteasheen as:
The Kilteasheen Archaeological Project, run jointly by Christopher Read of IT Sligo and Dr. Thomas Finan of the University of St. Louis, has just entered its 6th year, its 5th funded by the Royal Irish Academy. After five seasons of excavation, the post‐excavation phase of the project has commenced. The excavation has revealed a complex, multi period site with Neolithic, Bronze Age, Early and Later Medieval components. This ecclesiastical site is mentioned frequently in the annals during the 13th century and is directly associated with the O’Conor kings of Connacht, clearly making it a high status site. The ruins of a small fortified building, a possible early Hall House, have been extensively explored and have been interpreted as the likely remains of the Bishop’s Palace built at the site in 1253 AD. This later use of the site appears to have been based on the site’s already established role as an Early Medieval enclosed settlement/cemetery. Over 120 skeletons have been excavated from a large, well managed cemetery, ranging in date from the 7th to 14th centuries AD. Hundreds of prehistoric lithics have been recovered from all medieval contexts and extensive field walking indicating the intensive use of the site during prehistory.

Did zombies roam medieval Ireland? Sleep on it - Discovery News


Revealed, Ireland's real-life zombie scare: Eighth century skeletons buried with stones in mouths - Daily Mail

The UK documentary from last week about the Irish skeletons was Revealed - Mysteries of the Vampire Skeletons. It's on YouTube not available in my country here or on the Channel 5 web site in the UK here.

1 comment:

I do not moderate comments, but I remove spam, overt self-promotion ("read [link] my much better post on this") and what I consider hate speech (racism, homophobia etc).

Note: only a member of this blog may post a comment.