What's the best way to keep the dead from un-deadifying? Sure, these days we do it by bashing their brains in — but back in the 8th century, people did it by ramming a rock between their teeth.
A team of researchers led by archaeologist Chris Read recently discovered two skeletons at a burial sight in Ireland with large stones jammed forcefully between their jaws.
"One of them was lying with his head looking straight up. A large black stone had been deliberately thrust into his mouth," said Read, head of Applied Archaeology at the Institute of Technology in Sligo, Ireland.
"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."
When Read and his colleagues first unearthed the curious remains, their initial guess was that that the stones had been placed as a preventive measure against vampires, who were once believed to be capable of spreading the plague by gnawing on their burial shrouds.
But the skeletons were dated to the 700s — which would put the dates of their burials about 800 years prior to the widespread emergence of vampirism in European myths.
"In this case, the stones in the mouth might have acted as a barrier to stop revenants from coming back from their graves," explained Read.
Revenants (which is just an awesome way of saying zombies) were believed to be capable of coming back to life and seeking revenge on members of the living. But in order to do so, their bodies required the spark of reanimation:
"[The mouth] was viewed as the main portal for the soul to leave the body upon death," explains Read. "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."