Archaeologists found a 17th-century ‘vampire child’ in a Polish graveyard with a padlocked ankle.

Archaeologists found a 17th-century 'vampire child' in a Polish graveyard with a padlocked ankle.

Uncovering the Dark History of “Vampire” Burials

Vampire Child

Researchers have recently made a chilling discovery in a Polish graveyard – the skeletal remains of a “vampire child.” Buried face down with a triangular padlock on its foot, this unconventional burial technique was a common practice across Christian Europe in the 14th century and beyond.

The child, estimated to be between 5 and 7 years old, was found in an unmarked, mass cemetery in the village of Pień, near Ostromecko. This “necropolis,” meaning “city of the dead” in Greek, is also where archaeologists unearthed the remains of a “vampire” woman last year. She was buried with a padlock attached to her big toe and a sickle placed across her neck, a precautionary measure to prevent her from rising from the grave.

Led by archaeology professor Dariusz Poliński from Nicolaus Copernicus University, the archaeological team discovered the two graves just two meters apart. They believe this cemetery served as a makeshift burial ground for those who were not welcome in Christian cemeteries due to various reasons.

The cemetery has yielded around 100 graves, many of which display irregular burial techniques aimed at preventing individuals from returning from the dead. Triangular padlocks were used to tether the deceased to the ground, ensuring they would not rise from the grave. Additionally, evidence of disturbed or dug-up graves suggests that grave sites were tampered with after the initial burial.

Triangular Padlock

According to Poliński, there are several reasons why individuals may have been buried in such a cemetery. They may have exhibited strange behavior during their lifetime, leading others to fear them. Alternatively, they could have suffered from a disease or physical condition that affected their appearance. Sudden and violent deaths under mysterious circumstances also contributed to people’s fears.

Another group of individuals who were commonly buried in these cemeteries were unbaptized or unchristened children. Superstitions surrounding these children’s deaths often led to fears of them returning as malevolent spirits.

During the excavation, archaeologists also discovered a collection of loose bones nearby, as well as the remains of a pregnant woman with a fetus believed to be around six months old. These findings provide further insights into the lives and deaths of the people buried in this cemetery.

Matteo Borrini, a principal lecturer of forensic anthropology at Liverpool John Moore University, explains that “vampire burials” were prevalent across Christian Europe from the 14th century onwards. These burials were associated with outbreaks of vampirism, which were often linked to unexplained mass deaths, now understood to be pandemics or large-scale poisonings. The belief was that these “vampires” would first target and kill their own family members, subsequently spreading the contagion throughout the village.

While the discovery of the “vampire child” may send shivers down our spines, it provides invaluable insights into the social and cultural beliefs of the past. These unconventional burial practices were born out of a combination of fear, superstition, and an attempt to protect the living from the dead.

As archaeologists continue to delve into the mysteries of the past, these discoveries enable us to better understand the fears and customs that shaped our ancestors’ lives. In confronting our dark history, we gain a deeper appreciation for the progress we have made and the knowledge that has propelled us forward.