'Vampire' child discovered buried in 5th Century Italian cemetery

A 10-year-old was discovered lying on its side in a fifth-century Italian cemetery previously believed to be designated for babies toddlers and unborn fetuses. Credit David Pickel  Stanford University

While that is uncertain, something has come to light with the discovery of the child's burial this summer: the body had a stone placed in his or her mouth.

The cemetery may have been designed for children who died from diseases. The fifth-century resting place has given researchers clues suggesting a mass death at the time - specifically, the bodies' burial in quick succession hints at an insidious pestilence that swept the region - as well as illuminating the ancient locals' customs regarding potential vampiric zombies. In Northamptonshire, England, an adult male from the third or fourth century was found buried facedown with his tongue removed and replaced with a stone.

"I never met with anything like this". It's called here "the vampire of Lugnano", said archaeologist and professor at the University of Arizona David Sorein. The graveyard, which is situated atop the foundations of an abandoned 1st-century villa in Lugnano, Italy, has previously yielded the bones of dozens of children buried during the mid-5th century-a period when malaria devastated central Italy and its vulnerable population of infants and toddlers.

The child, whose sex has not yet been determined, shows signs of having had malaria.

The 10-year-old's skeleton is the oldest to have been found in the cemetery; prior to its excavation, the oldest bones belonged to a 3-year-old. She also died of malaria.

According to contemporary myth, it takes a specific set of tools to successfully battle a vampire: amongst other items, a wooden stake ideal for driving through the undead creature's chest, a clove of garlic created to repel evil, and sacred relics ranging from crosses to crucifixes.

Excavations at the site since 1987 had previously uncovered the remains of 50 children, the oldest of which had previously been a three-year-old girl.

It's a ritual similar to other burials found throughout Europe where skeletons have been found with stakes or stones forced down their throats.

The remains of yet another child, a girl of about 3 years of age, were found with heavy stones on the hands and feet - a practice employed by many cultures around the world to keep the dead from rising. During the summer there were discovered five new graves under a tiled tomb.

The remains, uncovered by archaeologists from two United States universities - Arizona and Stanford University - in cooperation with local experts, were discovered over the summer in the commune of Lugnano in Teverina. The stone, made of limestone, was roughly the size of a large egg and cut to be pointed on one end, David Pickel with the University of Stanford told USA TODAY.

Image: The "vampire burial" was of a child from 400AD in Italy.

But beyond these weird discoveries were human beings who lived in fear, Wilson said.

As with the Vampire of Venice, found in a plague pit, it's possible that what the living feared was not Draculas, but the return of the disease that had so devastated their communities. Wilson added, "Anytime you look at burials, they're significant because they provide a window into ancient minds".

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