UA archaeologists help uncover 'vampire burial' in Italy

Photo: Mediamenta

ITALY – Appropriately for the month of October, archaeologists made a creepy discovery in an ancient Roman cemetery in Italy, a release from the University of Arizona says.

Archaeologists from UA and Stanford University, along with archaeologists from Italy, uncovered the skeletal remains of a 10-year-old at La Necropoli dei Bambini (or the Cemetery of Babies) in Lugnano, which dates to the mid-fifth century.

Researchers say a deadly malaria outbreak swept the area during that period, killing many small children.

The remains of the 10-year-old, whose age was determined based on dental development, have not yet undergone DNA testing. But, the child was found to have an abscessed tooth, a side effect of malaria.

The strange part is, the child’s skeleton was found with a rock inserted into the mouth. Archaeologists said the position of the child’s jaw and the teeth marks on the surface of the stone indicate it was placed intentionally. The 10-year-old was the first body found at the cemetery with a stone in its mouth.

Researchers say the rock may have been placed there to keep the disease from spreading—and to keep the body in its grave.

“Locally, they’re calling it the ‘Vampire of Lugnano,’” said UA archaeologist David Soren in the release.

It may seem a bit bizarre, but archaeologists say similar burials have been documented in other places.

For example, in Venice, a 16-year-old girl dubbed the “Vampire of Venice” was found with a brick in her mouth. In England last year, a man from the third or fourth century was found face down with his tongue removed and replaced with a stone, according to archaeologists.

These types of burials are often referred to as vampire burials, since they were associated with the belief that the dead could rise again and spread diseases to the living, according to researchers.

Ancient Romans often employed magical measures to try to control the spread of diseases; archaeologists had previously uncovered infant and toddler bones in the cemetery alongside items like raven talons, toad bones, bronze cauldrons filled with ash and the remains of puppies that appeared to have been sacrificed.

They had also previously uncovered the body of a 3-year-old girl who had stones weighing down her hands and feet—another precaution to keep the dead … well, dead.

“We know that the Romans were very much concerned with this and would even go to the extent of employing witchcraft to keep the evil—whatever is contaminating the body—from coming out,” Soren said.

Archeologists said with this recent discovery, they hope to learn more about the devastating malaria epidemic and the community’s response to it.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This story was written by 12 News Staff, Mackenzie Concepcion.