Archeology often involves endless hours of work, resulting in nothing more than the discovery of a few shards of old pottery, if anything at all. However every now and then archeologists dig up something unexpected, which uncomfortably displays the darker side of human nature.
Here are my choices for 5 of the most disturbing archeological discoveries, which you may wish had remained buried deep in the ground and out of sight.
5. The Vampire of Venice
While excavating a mass grave on an island in Venice, archeologists unearthed more than they were expecting. The skeleton of a long dead woman was discovered with what appeared to be a large brick forced into her mouth. This led to speculation that whoever buried the woman may have believed that she was a vampire, and placed the brick there to prevent her from feeding on the living. This disturbing discovery is believed to be the first time that the remains of an alleged vampire have been unearthed.
Whilst this may seem bizarre to the modern mind, belief in vampires was extremely common in the middle ages, and for good reason. The stages of decomposition that dead bodies go through was poorly understood and often misinterpreted as being unnatural. Tombs and burial sites would often be reopened during times of disease such as the plague, when countless new corpses needed to be buried. Those doing the burying would often find signs of decomposition on the dead such as bodies bloated by gas, hair and nails appearing to still be growing as the skin shrinks and is pulled back, as well as blood leaking from the corpses mouth.
Burial shrouds would often sag into the corpses mouth, where bacteria would eat holes into the shroud, creating the appearance that the dead person was chewing on their shroud, earning them the nickname of shroud eaters. People believed that these vampires were the cause of the plagues which were spreading through their towns, and that the only way to stop the dead from rising was to remove the burial shroud, and place something into the vampires mouth.
However this was not the last time the remains of an alleged vampire have been found. A medieval skeleton was recently unearthed in Bulgaria with an iron rod plunged into its chest. The left leg below the knee had also been removed and placed next to the skeleton. The iron rod weighed almost two pounds, and shattered the shoulder bone of the man when it was thrust into his body. It’s clear that whoever did this had a strong belief that whoever was buried here might not stay dead, and took matters into his own hands to ensure that he would not rise again.
At another burial site in Poland, skeletons have also been found buried sickles under their necks, or rocks under their jaws. The sickles were placed in this position to decapitate the corpse should it attempt to rise from the grave, and the rocks were designed to pin the jaw shut and thus prevent the suspected vampire from feeding.
It’s clear from these cases that medieval era people had a genuine belief in vampires and the undead, and went to a lot of trouble to prevent the dead from rising, but were they just superstitions, or did they know something we don’t?