What do you do to someone that you think is a vampire? Bury them with a sickle around their neck, of course. That is the theory behind a recently unearthed skeleton that had a sharp farming implement placed precariously around the neck. The body was discovered at an archeological site in southeastern Poland. The area is known for Medieval burials that exhibit strong levels of superstition.
Many bodies in this region have been found buried without their heads. Buried with precious stones in bowls near their feet. Bodies have been found with holes drilled through their leg bones and with bricks shoved into their mouths. All of these strange burial practices were done to help prevent the bodies from returning from the dead. It would be hard for a vampire to walk if they had holes drilled clear through their legs.
Multiple unique things about this burial indicate that superstitious locals believed that this woman was indeed a vampire.
Vampire Burial Practices
The most interesting and visible portion of this skeleton is the placement of a sickle around the neck. The idea is that if the body woke up and tried to raise itself, the neck would strike the sickle, and the body would be decapitated or severely wounded. There are other incidents where people were buried with sickles nearby or sickles in the same grave, but none of them have been found with sharp blades pointed directly at the neck, like in this grave site.
But that is not the only interesting feature of this burial.
The body was also found with a large padlock attached to the big toe. The padlock was supposed to symbolize final death and was likely put on the body to try and prevent anything from entering the corpse and raising it. Locking corpses or sealing them from possession of reanimation were common practices in this part of the world during the Medieval period.
The corpse was likely of an upper-class woman. The body had remnants of silk on it, which denotes an expensive wardrobe. The corpse was also heavily prepared and carefully laid to rest. The sickle, perhaps, was a security measure put in place so that the body would not have to be decapitated before being buried. It seems like the local community had respect for this wealthy woman but was also fearful of her being a vampire.
Lastly, the skull of the woman revealed particularly large and pronounced front teeth. These teeth could have been one of the reasons that the local peasants believed that she was a vampire. A wealthy woman, likely beautiful, with large teeth, was a dead ringer for a vampire of the era. When she died, they buried her accordingly.
Vampires were not invented with the writing of Dracula. There have been persistent myths about vampires, witches, undead monsters, and demons for thousands of years. Many people believed in undead and immortal spirits that would haunt corpses.
Stories of blood-drinking demons have existed since the beginning of time. The ancient Indians have tales of vetālas, ghouls that inhabited corpses and ate flesh. The ancient Persians also had tales of blood sucking demons. The Babylonians and Assyrians took up the Persian myths and invented Lilitu, a vampire succubus that would eventually give rise to the Jewish myth of Lilith.
Medieval people also believed in vampires and revenants. There are stories and records of suspected vampires that stretch from England to Poland, through the Balkans, and into Greece. Burials like this one, found near the Polish village of Pień, remind us that the belief in these monsters was not simply a passing thought but a conviction.
Stories like Dracula might have brought the idea of vampires into the modern era but the tale was based on a myth that has origins stretching back thousands of years.
Luckily for the Medieval villagers, it does not look like this corpse ever stirred after being deposited into the ground. The sickle remains on guard against any potential movement. It does not look like the corpse moved at all since it was interred.
The sickle, the wealth, the padlock strapped to the toe, and the protruding teeth make this skeleton one of the most interesting found in recent memory.