Here is another… Found, again, in a Polish cemetery. What had she done to deserve such a burial? How could she have frightened her contemporaries to the point of ending up a prisoner even in death? In the village of Pień, not far from Bydgoszcz in central Poland, the skeleton of what archaeologists believe could be a “vampire woman” has just been discovered in a 17th century cemetery, established on a site of medieval occupation. The body showed a sickle planted on either side of his neck as well as a padlock hooked to the big toe of his left foot. For the team of researchers from the Nicholas Copernicus University in Toruń, who made the find, such tools were probably placed on the deceased at the time of her burial in order to prevent her from returning to her home. life and get out of the ground.
Silk fibers were found on the woman’s skull, suggesting that she was wearing a bonnet reserved for an elite. Credits: Miroslav Blicharski/Aleksander Poznan
This is not the first time that a body has been discovered in such a configuration in Poland: in 2014, six graves showing this strange ritual were unearthed in a cemetery from the High Middle Ages in Drawsko, about 200 kilometers from Pień. Marek Polcyn, from Lakehead University, Canada, and Elzbieta Gajda, from the Czarnkowskiej Museum, Poland, had exhumed them among 250 other graves, before devoting a study to them in the specialized magazine Antiquity. Before these six tombs, which archaeologists prefer to link to “demons” – which swarmed in the beliefs of Central Europe in the Middle Ages -, rather than to vampires, others had been exhumed in cemeteries in Poland, including the oldest date back to the 6th century. In Slovakia, Hungary, Austria, Romania, Germany and Italy, similar burials have also been identified.
Many “anti-demon” rituals recorded since the 6th century
“The sickle had a dual purpose”entrusted to Science and Future in 2016 the medievalist and specialist in myths and popular beliefs Claude Lecouteux. The Slavs indeed believed that hard and pointed iron objects, intended to “slash” or “stab”, held “apotropaic” virtues, that is to say intended to deflect danger. Placing sickles across the necks of corpses is not, however, the only precaution against possible demonic resurrections identified by archaeologists.
Here and there in Europe, some deceased presented huge stones on their chest or on their head to prevent them from moving, when bricks were not placed directly in their mouth (site of Lugnano, in Italy); others rested under thorny bushes specially planted on their graves to grip their shrouds the day they decided, in the form of specters, to venture into the world of the living; still others had been placed face down to prevent them from straightening up; the less fortunate, for their part, had been directly decapitated, and sometimes even relieved of one of their legs if they were tempted to leave even without their skulls (series of deceased found on the site of Rynek Główny in Krakow, in 2008).
Victims of epidemics?
But why on earth were these deceased considered to be creatures of the forces of evil? After the first discoveries of ritual burials of the type, a link between the supernatural character of the individuals and their foreign origin was established. Soon, however, isotope ratios of radiogenic strontium (an indicator of diet) extracted from tooth enamel proved that the “vampires” were locals, not transients.
The authors of other works on the mysterious tombs of Drawsko then issued another hypothesis: people labeled as “vampires” could have been the first victims of epidemics of cholera, a widespread mortality factor at the time. Lesley Gregoricka, first author of a study published in 2014 in Plos Onewrote: “People in the post-medieval period did not understand how diseases were spread, and rather than illuminated by a scientific explanation for these epidemics, cholera and the resulting deaths were explained by the supernatural – in this case, the vampires.”
A particular face
The skeleton recently discovered in Pień, however, has an intriguing feature: a very protruding incisor. According to researchers from Nicholas Copernicus University, the woman may have had an unusual appearance during her lifetime that led 17th-century villagers to label her a witch or other figure of darkness. His remains should now be subjected to more detailed analysis in Toruń.
In the center of the jaw stands out a more prominent incisor which would have given the person a particular facies. Credits: Miroslav Blicharski/Aleksander Poznan
It was not the first excavation organized in Pień: between 2005-2009, several tombs dated from the beginning of the Middle Ages had yielded precious funerary objects, such as silver jewellery, semi-precious stones, a bronze bowl and fragments of silk clothing. Returning in 2022 in the hope of finding similar burials, the archaeologists had finally decided to turn, after an unsuccessful excavation, to a nearby cemetery a few centuries more recent. In this space lay the vampire immobilized by the sickle. Now she is free.