Ancient ‘vampire’ bodies buried with stones in their mouths to prevent them from coming back from the dead

Ancient ‘vampire’ bodies buried with stones in their mouths to prevent them from coming back from the dead

A montage shows two examples of burials where a rock or brick was placed in the mouth of the deceased.

Two examples of burials were a rock or a brick placed in the mouth of the deceased.David Pickel/Stanford University/Insider; REUTERS/Handout/Insider

  • For centuries, people have worried about the dead coming back to life.

  • Many people believed this could be stopped by putting a stone or brick in the mouth, experts said.

  • “Vampires” were believed to rise from the grave unless something cruel stopped them.

Archaeologists recently discovered an example of a “vampire” burial in Poland with a scythe around the body’s neck to prevent it from rising from the grave.

But there are other ways people have stopped dead “vampires” from torturing the living, one of which was putting a rock or brick in their mouths, experts told Insider.

Here are two examples of such burials uncovered by archaeologists and what experts say they mean.

A stone to stop the “vampire” Nachzehrer

An aged skull with a stony place in the mouth is seen from the side.

A woman’s artifice found in a 16th-century mass grave in Venice had a brick placed in her mouth to prevent her from feasting on plague victims.REUTERS/Handout/Insider

In this case, the body of a woman was discovered in a 16th-century tomb 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 mass grave, a strange 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 actually manipulating the body of a person with a terminal illness,” Matteo Borrini, senior lecturer in forensic anthropology at Liverpool John Moores University, told Insider.

Borrini was the lead scientist on the dig. He conducted a careful forensic examination to understand what happened.

A composite image shows a 3D reconstruction of the body holding a brick in its mouth next to an image of the remains in situ in a mass grave

A 3D model of the woman’s remains appears overlaid on an image of the remains in the mass grave.REUTERS/Khan

He discovered that the woman was probably believed 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 up as a full vampire,” he said.

“What I found was that there was this tradition that said there were corpses that people believed were responsible for spreading the plague around. These bodies were not completely dead and captured by some demonic influence,” Borrini said, describing the old beliefs.

“And they were chewing their shroud in their graves and spreading the plague in a kind of black magic way,” he said.

A facial reconstruction shows a forensic reconstruction of the woman's face.

A forensic reconstruction of what the woman, nicknamed “Carmilla” by scientists, may have looked like.Dr Matteo Borrini – Liverpool John Moores University

Placing a brick in her mouth, according to these beliefs, would prevent the Nachzehrer from chewing its exit and thus protect the living from disease.

However, Carmilla would not have been considered a vampire during her lifetime. Borrini’s work showed that the mass grave was reopened after Carmilla was buried. At that point, her body, which was still wrapped in a shroud, probably hadn’t fully decomposed.

The undertakers, faced with this body apparently still fresh with the shroud decaying around the mouth, may have assumed that the body was occupied and placed the brick there.

A stone to keep the soul from spreading disease

A skull is seen in situ, a rock is placed in the child's mouth.

A child’s body was found in a 5th century Roman cemetery, buried with a stone in its mouth.David Pickel/Stanford University/Insider

Researchers at 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 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 placed in the child’s mouth.

Shown here are the remains of a ten-year-old child buried in a Roman cemetery in the 5th century with a stone in his mouth.

The child’s body was found on the side.David Pickel/Stanford University

Jordan Wilson, lead bioarchaeologist for the Villa Romana di Poggio Gramignano archaeological project, told Insider that the stone was likely preventing the child’s soul from entering or leaving the body.

“There is a very ancient idea that the breath is associated with life and the 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 disease or generally tormenting the living. It may also have been 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 carriers of disease

Myths about “vampires” have accompanied the death of people for centuries.

They were ways to understand what could not be explained by the knowledge of the time, such as mysterious deaths during a contagious epidemic, Borrini said.

“These ‘vampires’ start hunting and killing first family members, then neighbors and then all the other villages. This is the classic pattern of a disease that is contagious,” he said.

Borrini defines a “vampire” as a dead person who rises from the dead as a body.

Wilson, however, said that any myth where a dead person can torment the living, either through their spirit or their reanimated body, is part of “vampire” folklore.

“The idea that the dead can either rise from the grave in a literal sense or that the dead, in a spiritual sense, can continue to plague the living beyond death is something that exists in virtually every culture and has a very , very ancient origin. ” he said.

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