Archaeologists have discovered a female corpse in a 17th-century cemetery in the southeastern village of Pien, Poland, buried in a way that was once believed would prevent her from rising out of the ground as a “vampire.”
Experts found a sickle around the corpse’s neck and a padlock on her left foot meant to hold her securely in the ground. The corpse also had a protruding front tooth and a silk cap on her head, which indicated her high social status.
Many people during the post-medieval period in Eastern Europe believed the dead would rise from the ground and emerge as blood-sucking supernatural beings, notably zombies and vampires. They buried their dead in unusual manners to prevent their return from the dead and to quell vampire hysteria.
“The sickle was not laid flat but placed on the neck in such a way that if the deceased had tried to get up most likely the head would have been cut off or injured,” Professor Dariusz Poliński from the Nicholas Copernicus University said. “Ways to protect against the return of the dead include cutting off the head or legs, placing the deceased face down to bite into the ground, burning them, and smashing them with a stone.”
Many who lived as far back as the 11th century likely attributed the spread of fatal diseases, such as cholera, to vampires and supernatural beings.
In 2014, archaeologists found six skeletons buried similarly in Drawsko, Poland, in a 400-year-old cemetery. There were sickles pressed against the necks of an adult man and woman.
That same year, archeologists discovered a corpse in Bulgaria with an iron stake impaled through his chest to keep him from “rising from the dead and disturbing the living,” Smithsonian Magazine reported. His left leg had been removed and placed next to his body. Archaeologist Nikolai Ovcharov said those who died from unusual or unexpected causes, such as suicide, were staked to keep them from returning as vampires.
Vampire hysteria was common in Slavic villages and among the Romani people. Archaeologists uncovered over 100 corpses pinned to the ground or staked in the Eastern European region.