Archaeologists find late Roman grave of a “child vampire”

Lugnano in Teverina (Italy) – During the excavations of an ancient Roman villa near Lugnano in Teverina in the Italian region of Umbria, archaeologists uncovered a late Roman cemetery at the end of the 1980s. Now the researchers have discovered the skeleton of a child who probably had the questionable reputation of being a vampire or revenant. At least during his funeral, special measures were taken to prevent the return of the dead.

As the team around Professor David Soren of University of Arizona and David Pickel of Stanford University together with Italian colleagues currently in the journal “GGG” (DOI: ccc) report, it is in 1987 discovered “Necropoli dei Bambini” is a cemetery for toddlers who had been buried here in the remains of a Roman villa in the middle of the fifth century as a result of a malaria epidemic demanding many sacrifices.

One of the now uncovered child skeletons stands out from the multitude of children buried here up to three years: It is the skeleton of a 10-year-old child, in whose mouth – probably as part of the funeral ritual – a large stone was put.

The procedure is already known as “vampire burial” and should probably prevent the so buried from hiding as the undead the living or even infected with those diseases in which they had once died themselves. Survivors hoped that the procedure would be able to contain epidemics.

Detail view of the skull of the alleged “vampire”. 
Copyright: David Pickel / Stanford University

“I’ve never seen anything like it myself. This is extremely rare and admittedly bizarre, “says Soren. “Locally, people talk about the ‘Vampire of Lugnano'”.

So far, the archaeologists had believed that the cemetery was reserved for toddlers. In fact, most of the more than 50 finds to date are the skeletons of fetuses or toddlers.

The discovery of the 10-year-old child, whose age could be determined by his tooth development, whose gender is still unclear, but now suggests that the cemetery was also used to bury older children. In fact, there are still untouched parts of the Children’s Cemetery, where archeologists now hope for more finds.

“The discovery of the alleged vampire may have told us something about the devastating malaria epidemic that hit Umbria some 1,500 years ago,” explains Pickel, adding: “The skeleton and the nature of its burial are the response of society to the epidemic and read their handling of it. “However, the find so far represents a” certain anomaly “in the environment of the other graves of the children’s cemetery.

Detail view of the stone from the oral cavity of the skull. 
Copyright: David Pickel / Stanford University

In fact, the archaeologists had previously found in other children’s graves references to the belief in magic practices and witchcraft in the form of Rabenkrallen, turtle bones, ash-filled small bronze cauldrons and the remains of young dogs that had apparently been sacrificed during the burial. In addition, a three-year-old girl’s hands and feet were weighted with stones – a comparatively widespread practice designed to prevent the dead from reproducing.

“From the Romans, we know how much they feared recurring dead and that they use magic and witchcraft to banish evil – or whatever it was supposed to be in the bodies of the deceased – in the grave,” says Soren.

In the case of the children buried here, this “evil” was probably malaria and although a precise DNA analysis is still pending, a tooth abscess of the “child vampire” speaks for a malaria infection and suggests that this child also fell prey to the epidemic were.

For one thing, researchers do not consider the wide-open position of the mouth and its stone to be a coincidence since the mouth of a dead person usually does not expand naturally during the decomposition process. On the other hand, traces of the child’s teeth can also be found on the stone, which also indicates that the stone was purposely placed in the oral cavity.




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