The people of 8th century Ireland were afraid of zombies, too

Illustration for article titled The people of 8th century Ireland were afraid of zombies, too

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.

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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."

Illustration for article titled The people of 8th century Ireland were afraid of zombies, too

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.

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"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."

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Via Discovery News
Top image via deviantART's Crazy-Mutha & Vulture 34
Dig photo by Chris Read

DISCUSSION

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.

Kind of depends on what you define as a "vampire" I would think—I think plenty of the modern notions, like fangs and the ability to pass for a normal human and an allergy to sunlight, may not have become commonplace until the 19th century or even the 20th. If you just have a minimal definition of a non-spectral undead body that roams at night and likes to drink blood, these ideas may have been around well before the 1500s. The wiki article on revenants has some quotes from an account of a revenant by William of Newburgh who lived in the 1100's, which includes the comment that when the townspeople dug up the corpse, they found that it was "swollen to an enormous corpulence, with its countenance beyond measure turgid and suffused with blood", and that they "inflicted a wound upon the senseless carcass, out of which incontinently flowed such a stream of blood, that it might have been taken for a leech filled with the blood of many persons". Sounds like a vamp to me!