Archaeologists excavating an ancient Roman site in Italy have come across the body of a child who may have died of malaria who appears to have been given a so-called “vampire burial.”
“I’ve never seen anything like it. It’s extremely eerie and weird,” said University of Arizona archaeologist David Soren, who oversees the site.
The 10-year-old’s remains were buried with a rock intentionally inserted in its mouth, which researchers say may have been done to prevent the corpse from rising from its grave and infecting the living.
The skeleton was found at La Necropoli dei Bambini, or the Cemetery of the Babies, which contains a number of bodies of infants and small children who were taken by a malaria outbreak in the 5th century. The new discovery represents the oldest child found so far at the cemetery.
“Given the age of this child and its unique deposition, with the stone placed within his or her mouth, it represents, at the moment, an anomaly within an already abnormal cemetery,” said excavation director David Pickel, now at Stanford. “This just further highlights how unique the infant—or now, rather, child—cemetery at Lugnano is.”
Excavations in the same cemetery have turned up evidence of other practices tied to witchcraft and magic including children buried with things like raven talons, toad bones, bronze cauldrons of ash and even sacrificial puppies. Another young girl’s body was found with stones placed on her hands and feet, something cultures throughout history and around the world have done to prevent the dead from coming back, zombie-style.
“We know that the Romans were very much concerned with this and would even go to the extent of employing witchcraft to keep the evil—whatever is contaminating the body—from coming out,” Soren said.
In 2009, another corpse was excavated in Venice of a female “vampire,” who had likely fallen victim to the plague, with a brick shoved in her mouth.