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While conducting research in a 17th century cemetery in the village of Pien, Poland, a group of archaeologists discovered the remains of a woman, anchored to the ground with her neck blocked by a sickle. According to Professor Dariusz Poliński, who led the excavations, this strange ritual was intended to prevent him from coming back from the dead.
This form of burial is relatively unusual according to the expert. Not only was the neck hobbled by a sickle, but one of the deceased’s toes was padlocked. Archaeologists have also discovered the remains of a silk cap on his head, which would indicate his belonging to a rather high social status. The unknown also had a protruding tooth on the upper jaw. The discovery is somewhat odd, but according to Poliński, the era was marked by other spine-chilling funeral rites.
” Ways to protect against the return of the dead were to cut off the head or legs, place the deceased face down to bite into the ground, burn them, and hit them with a stone », he explains to DailyMail. The sickle was placed in such a way that the dead man would have had his head cut off if he tried to get up. The padlocked toe, which symbolizes “the closing of a stage” according to Poliński, was another way of ensuring that the deceased could not come back to attack the living.
A myth of the vampire deeply rooted in the region
If zombies and other undead are legion in contemporary films and series, you should know that the myth was established in the 11th century in Eastern Europe. At that time, people feared that some dead would rise to the surface as a bloodthirsty creature, which they named vrykolakas — an undead quite similar to the myth of the vampire in the way he kills his victims; both were treated similarly at the time of burial. The myth of the vampire was born much earlier and already known among the ancient Romans, Egyptians and Greeks.
In Polish folklore, sacrilege, the practice of witchcraft, or simply an unusual physical appearance could cause a deceased person to become undead. People who died prematurely, for example by committing suicide, were also often suspected of vampirism. As a result, in the region, many remains were found with a metal rod through the skull — a surefire way for the people of the time to ensure that the person would not come back to life — or any another form of inclusions of apotropaics (objects intended to ward off bad luck).
In 2014, archaeologists reported the discovery of similarly buried skeletons in a cemetery in Drawsko, a 400-year-old village 130 kilometers from Pien. Of the approximately 285 skeletons recovered, five had been classified as “deviant burials”—interestingly, these were not laid out apart in the cemetery, but buried among the other deceased. This discovery was the subject ofan article in PLOS One in 2014.
Sickles were found pressed against the throats of a man and a woman, aged around forty. Two other tombs contained two female skeletons who suffered the same fate: one of them was only 14 to 19 years old according to the analyses. An older woman (between 50 and 60 years old) was found buried with a sickle anchored at her hips and a large stone placed on her throat.
The first victims of a cholera epidemic
The team that made the discovery pointed out at the time that these macabre rites were not only intended to ensure that the deceased could not harm the living, but that they could also help protect the dead from evil forces. . Indeed, according to popular wisdom, the sickle protected women in childbirth, children and the dead against evil spirits.
These funerary practices became relatively common in Poland, as in other Slavic countries, in the 17th and 18th centuries, following a sudden and massive belief in these myths. This collective hysteria has even led to the execution of people considered to be vampires. Researchers believed that those wrongfully executed and mutilated were mostly foreigners, newcomers to the area. But analyzes carried out on the remains of Drawsko showed that the so-called vampires were indeed locals.
Several factors were at the time associated with vampirism: strange physical characteristics, birth out of wedlock, unfulfilled baptism, or any death deemed unusual were considered signs of potential resuscitation after death.
The authors of the study thus believe that these people were in fact the first victims of the cholera epidemics, which raged over a large part of Eastern Europe in the 17th century. ” People in the post-medieval period did not understand how diseases spread, and rather than a scientific explanation for these epidemics, cholera and the resulting deaths were explained by the supernatural », explained Lesley Gregorickafirst author of the study.
The body recently unearthed in Pień has been sent to Torun, where archaeologists will conduct further research.