Potential vampires in the 17th-18th century buried with rocks and sickles to ward off evil.
Potential ‘vampires’ buried in northwest Poland with sickles and rocks across their bodies were most probably local and not immigrants to the area, according to a study published yesterday in the open-access journal PLOS ONE by Lesley Gregoricka from University of South Alabam and colleagues.
In northwest Poland, apotropaic funerary rites – a traditional practice intended to prevent evil – occurred throughout the 17th-18th c. AD. Those of the dead considered at risk for becoming vampires for various reasons were given specific treatment, and investigating these burial practices may provide valuable information into community cultural and social practices, as well as the social identities of people living in the area at the time.
Excavations at a cemetery in northwestern Poland have unveiled six unusual graves, with sickles across the bodies or large rocks under the chins of select individuals, amidst hundreds of normal burials. In order to obtain a better understanding as to whether the bodies selected for aprotropaic burial rites were local or non-local immigrants, the authors of this study tested permanent molars from 60 individuals, including six “special” or deviant burials, using radiogenic strontium isotope ratios from archaeological dental enamel. They then compared the results to strontium isotopes of local animals.
The authors discovered that those in deviant burials appear to be a predominantly local population, with all individuals buried as potential vampires exhibiting local strontium isotope ratios.
These data indicate that those targeted for apotropaic practices were not likely migrants to the area, but rather, local individuals whose social identity or manner of death likely marked them with suspicion in some other way.
The authors imply one alternative explanation behind these apotropaic burials may be the cholera epidemics that were dominant in Eastern Europe during the 17th century, as the first person to die from an infectious disease outbreak was presumed more likely to return from the dead as a vampire.
“People of the post-medieval period did not understand how disease was spread, and rather than a scientific explanation for these epidemics, cholera and the deaths that resulted from it were explained by the supernatural – in this case, vampires,” said Dr. Gregoricka.
Contributing Source: PLOS
Header Image Source: Amy Scott
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