Killing an Ancient…Vampire?

Vampires might be mythological beings. But for centuries, people from across the world have feared them. So, how did ancient people deal with suspected vampires?

How did Ancient People deal with Suspected Vampires?

Generally speaking, vampires are mythological creatures who feed on the blood (the essence of life) of living individuals. They’ve been scaring people for centuries, perhaps all the way back to the prehistoric era. Recently, archaeologists excavated numerous skeletons dating back to the Middle Ages. They were found near Sozopol, Bulgaria. Curiously enough, the skeletons’ chests had been pinned down with iron rods.

“These two skeletons stabbed with rods illustrate a practice common up until the first decade of the 20th century.” ~ Bozhidar Dimitrov, Head of the National History Museum, Sofia, Bulgaria

Apparently, more than 100 similar corpses have been discovered in Bulgaria. While belief in vampires was common across many ancient cultures, individual groups of people developed their own ways of dealing with them.

Guerrilla Explorer’s Analysis

Staking was fairly common, although the choice of stake and its placement varied. In this case, iron rods were hammered into the chest bones (the heart was probably the most common placement elsewhere, with the mouth and stomach being other popular targets). Most likely, the chest was chosen so the rod would deflate the corpse as it started to bloat into a vampire.

Nowadays, vampires have become a significant part of the horror genre. But many centuries ago they were regarded as much more than mere fiction…they were a horrifying reality…a reality that could only be stopped by the most extreme measures.

Zombies…in Ancient Ireland?

In 2005, a team of archaeologists began surveying Medieval churches in Kilteasheen, Ireland. In the process, they stumbled onto a mysterious burial ground. What they found shocked them. Did the ancient Irish fear an invasion…from zombies?

Strange Skeletons in Ireland?

The archaeological team in question was led by Chris Read and Thomas Finan. From 2005 to 2009, they unearthed 137 skeletons at a site near Loch Key in Ireland. These skeletons are probably just the tip of the iceberg and its believed that some 3,000 bodies remain in the area. Two of the skeletons were grotesquely unique. Why?

Because each skeleton’s mouth was filled…with a “baseball-sized rock.”

Pretty gruesome. The two skeletons were male and buried next to each other. One man was between 40 to 60 years old while the other one was closer to 20 to 30 years old. They lived in Ireland around the 700s. And apparently, someone thought they were zombies.

“A large black stone had been deliberately thrust into his mouth. The other had his head turned to the side and had an even larger stone wedged quite violently into his mouth so that his jaws were almost dislocated.” Chris Read, Head of Applied Archaeology at the Institute of Technology in Sligo, Ireland

Ancient Zombies?

The stones may have been part of an ancient ritual designed to ensure that dead people, well, stayed dead. A similar ritual was observed during the Middle Ages. At that time, it was thought that deceased vampires spread the Black Death by “chewing on their shrouds after dying” (see here for my story on a more likely source for the Black Death…a comet). Stones were inserted into the mouths of so-called vampires to stop this from happening. But since vampires weren’t big in European folklore in the 700s, the archaeologists have assumed that the ancient Irish were worried about zombies instead.

“[The mouth] was viewed as the main portal for the soul to leave the body upon death. Sometimes, the soul could come back to the body and re-animate it or else an evil spirit could enter the body through the mouth and bring it back to life.” ~ Chris Read

Guerrilla Explorer’s Analysis

It seems pretty clear that these two men were societal outsiders for one reason or another. But were they really considered “zombies” by ancient Irishmen? Maybe. Still, it should be noted that the skeletons appear to predate written records of such creatures.

Nowadays, zombies have become a significant part of the horror genre. But if Read and Finan are right, then many centuries ago zombies were regarded as much more than mere fiction…they were a horrifying reality…reality that could only be stopped with a stone in the mouth.

What’s Inside an Ancient Chinese Tomb?

Recently, archaeologists unearthed a Zhou Dynasty tomb in China’s Henan Province. What did they find inside this 3,000 year old grave?

What was the Western Zhou Dynasty?

The Zhou Dynasty was the longest lasting dynasty in Chinese history. Historians believe it began in 1046 BC and lasted until 256 BC. However, the ruling Jī family only wielded military and political control over China from 1046 BC to 771 BC, a period which is often referred to as the Western Zhou Dynasty. It was marked by the introduction of iron, impressive bronzeware, and the evolution of Chinese script into its modern form.

Recently, while constructing a hospital in Luoyang, workers discovered underground structures. Archaeologists excavated the area and unearthed a perfectly-preserved tomb dating back to the Western Zhou Dynasty. They consider it “the most complete find of any tomb of its era.” So, what did they find inside it?

Guerrilla Explorer’s Analysis

The excavation unveiled numerous pits. Some of these pits contained pottery, copper weapons, jade objects, and bronzeware. However, these finds paled in comparison to the main pit where archaeologists uncovered the remains of five wooden chariots and twelve dead horses. Although the chariots have rotted away, the ash residue remains as you can see in the pictures at the links above. The horse skeletons were found lying on their sides, indicating that they were probably killed before burial.

The tomb probably belonged to a mid-level official. In life, he was most likely of limited importance. But in death, he and his tomb are providing valuable insight into funeral customs as well as other aspects of the Western Zhou dynasty.