For centuries, people 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.
It was thought that ‘vampires’ would eat their way out of the grave, unless something hard stopped them.
Archaeologists recently uncovered an example of a “vampire” buried in Poland with a sickle around the body’s neck to keep it from rising from the grave.
But there are other ways that people prevented the undead “vampires” from tormenting the living, one of which was putting a rock or a brick in their mouth, Insider experts said.
Here are two examples of such burials uncovered by archaeologists and what they mean according to experts.
Stone to stop “vampire” Nachzehrer
In this case, the body of a woman was found in a 16th century grave in Lazzaretto Nuovo, about 2 miles from Venice, Italy.
The woman, nicknamed “Carmilla” by the scientists who uncovered her, was found with a brick in her mouth inside a grave, a strange ritual unlike other burials at the time.
Little 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 manipulating the body of someone with a fatal disease,” Matteo Borrini, a senior lecturer in forensic anthropology at Liverpool John Moores University, told Insider.
Borrini was the chief scientist on the excavation. He carried out a careful forensic examination to understand what had happened.
He discovered that the woman was probably considered a Nachzehrer, a type of vampire in old European folklore.
“It’s not the classic idea that the vampire is going out and sucking people’s blood. It’s more of a person killing people from the grave before he can rise as a full vampire there,” he said.
“What I discovered was that there was this tradition that said there were bodies that people believed were responsible for spreading the plague around. These bodies were not completely dead and were captured by some demonic influence, ” said Borrini, describing the old beliefs.
“And they were chewing their blood inside their graves and spreading the plague in a black magic way,” he said.
If a brick were placed in its mouth, according to these beliefs, the Nachzehrer would prevent its exit, thus protecting the living from disease.
Carmilla would not be considered a vampire during her lifetime, however. Borrini’s work showed that the tomb was reopened after Carmilla was buried. At that point, her body, which was still wrapped in a shroud, was probably not fully decomposed.
It is possible that the grave diggers, for whom this body was apparently still fresh, with the juice that was rotting around the mouth, assumed that the body was possessed and placed the brick there.
A stone to keep the soul from spreading disease
Researchers at the University of Arizona and Stanford University found another example of a “vampire.” This one was buried in a children’s cemetery on the site of the ancient Roman Villa Poggio Gramignano in Teverina, Italy.
The child, who was about 10 years old, was buried in the 5th century during a deadly outbreak of malaria. A stone was also put in the child’s mouth.
Jordan Wilson, lead bioarchaeologist for the Villa Romana di Poggio Gramignano archaeological project, told Insider that the stone was probably there to keep the child’s soul from entering or leaving the body.
“There is a very ancient idea of the breath being linked to life and the soul, and the mouth in particular as a sort of portal through which the soul exits after death,” she said.
Perhaps the stone is a way to keep the child’s body or spirit from spreading disease or the torment of life in general. Perhaps it was also a way to keep the child safe from witches, who were believed to be able to raise children from the dead and use their souls.
Vampires as vectors for disease
“Vampire” myths have accompanied the death of people for centuries.
They were ways to understand things that could not be explained with the knowledge of the time, such as mysterious deaths during an infectious outbreak, Borrini said.
“These ‘vampires’ start hunting and killing family members first, then the neighbors, and then the whole other village. This is the classic pattern of an infectious disease,” he said.
Borrini defines “vampire” as a dead person rising from the dead as a corpse.
Wilson, however, said that any myth in which a dead person can torture the living, through their spirit or 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 live after death is something that is fundamental to almost all cultures and that It has a very ancient origin,” she said.
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