Archaeologists have been speculating recently on what is believed to be a rare case of a so-called “vampire burial”; the remains of a young child were unearthed with a rock firmly lodged in its mouth. Experts believed the stone must have been positioned as part of a local superstitious “vampire burial” funeral custom, to stop the body from rising from the dead and continuing the spread of the disease.
Dr. David Soren, a professor at the University of Arizona School of Anthropology and Department of Religious Studies and Classics, said in a statement:
“I’ve never seen anything like it. It’s extremely eerie and weird. Locals have dubbed the 10-year-old the ‘Vampire of Lugnano.”
Archaeological teams from the University of Arizona, along with Stanford University, and institutions in Italy uncovered the body this summer at La Necropoli dei Bambini, or the Cemetery of the Babies, burial site in Lugnano, Teverina, central Italy. The body was placed meticulously on its left side between two roof tiles leaning against a wall, as reported by the University of Arizona. The cemetery itself dates far back to the middle-fifth century AD., the same time a malaria epidemic tore through the region of Umbria in Italy.
Usually, the mouth of the deceased person does not open throughout the decomposition of a body upon its side. The teeth from the remains were studied to determine what was believed to be about 10 years of age. While the body awaits DNA testing to determine the cause of death, an abscess spotted in a tooth suggested the child had been a victim of malaria. The rock was believed to have been placed inside the 10-year-old child’s mouth after death. Jordan Wilson, anthropology Ph.D. with the University of Arizona assessed the remains and further added that the teeth indentations upon the stone further supported the theory, as stated. David Pickel, excavation director, and a Ph.D. candidate at Stanford said to Newsweek that the limestone rock was around the size of an egg. It measured about 7×4 centimeters, weighing 91 grams and was carved to have a point at the end.
“I was surprised by the seeming ritual practice involved in his or her burial,” said Pickel. “The community did not simply insert a stone within this child’s mouth; they first cut the stone, and then cemented it within the child’s mouth.” Dotted on the stone were “tooth-shaped depressions, similar to when one bites into a pastry.”
So let’s consider the atmosphere for this ‘Vampire Burial’. The term ‘Roman fever’ refers to a particularly deadly outbreak of malaria that had affected the Roman Campagna and the city of Rome throughout its various epochs in history. Some scholars believe that an epidemic of ‘Roman fever’ during the fifth century AD may have been a strong contributing factor to the fall of the Roman empire. The same era that the Roman empire was meeting its end, the peoples’ fear was projected on the “Vampire of Lugnano”. A 10-year-old child was laid to rest with a stone in its mouth to prevent it from causing anyone any harm in the paranoid climate of a receding empire. With this in mind, we see a culture of people surrounded by fear feeling their way through their superstitions in the dark.