Archaeologists have discovered a 17th-century Polish “vampire” with a scythe around his neck to prevent returning from the dead

The female “vampire” with a scythe in her throat found in Pień, Poland.Mirosław Blicharski

  • A female “vampire” skeleton has been found in a 17th-century Polish cemetery.

  • He was found being held up to prevent the dead woman from returning from the grave.

  • The skeleton had a scythe on its throat and a padlock on its big toe.

The skeletal remains of what may have been a female “vampire” were found in a 17th-century Polish cemetery, with a scythe around her neck to prevent the woman from being resurrected.

Professor Dariusz Poliński of the Nicolaus Copernicus University led the archaeological excavations that led to the discovery of the skeleton, the Daily Mail reported.

the remains are shown from an aerial view.

The remains seen from above.Lukasz Czyzewski, NCU

“The scythe was not flattened but placed on the neck in such a way that if the deceased tried to get up, the head would most likely be cut or injured,” Poliński told the Daily Mail.

The remains, discovered in the village of Pień near Ostromecko, Poland, appear to belong to a young woman buried in the 17th century, according to a press release seen by Insider. Traces of a silk cap on her head suggested she came from a higher social status, according to the Daily Mail.

“Such a find, especially here in Poland, is amazing, especially now – centuries later,” Poliński told CBS. “Pure amazement.”

A triangular padlock was placed around the big toe of her left foot, an indicator that the people who buried the woman were worried she might rise from the grave, possibly because they thought she was a vampire.

The remains, discovered in August, are being further investigated by scientists. CBS reported that researchers from Krakow University’s Institute of Archeology will study the DNA of the skeleton to learn more about the woman

The padlock found around the woman's foot is shown here.

The padlock found around the woman’s foot is shown here.Andrzej Romanski, NCU

Vampire burial rituals that have evolved over time

The practice of “vampire” burials swept across Christian Europe from the 14th century until the 17th century, Matteo Borrini, principal lecturer in forensic anthropology at John Moore University in Liverpool, told Insider.

“Vampire” outbreaks were often associated with times when people died from causes that couldn’t be explained with the science of the time — such as a pandemic or mass poisoning, he said.

“These ‘vampires’ start hunting and killing family members first, then neighbors and then all the other villages. This is the classic model of a contagious disease,” he said.

Borrini discovered in Venice the remains of a woman who died in the 16th century, which he showed through careful scientific examination to be a “vampire” burial site.

The remains were found in a mass grave filled with plague victims. This body had a stone carefully placed in its mouth.

The belief at the time was that people could become Nachzehrer, vampires who chewed through their shrouds and rose from the dead to bite the living and spread the plague, he said.

Later, as the tradition evolved, people believed that vampires rose from the dead and strangled people during the night. Borrini said this could be one way to explain the chest pain caused by the leading cause of death in Europe at the time: tuberculosis.

It’s only in the Victorian era that vampires were said to bite necks and suck blood, a trope that was used in books at the time as “sort of a metaphor for sex,” Borrini said.

Remains shown in situ, image clearly shows blade.

The remains are shown here in situ.Lukasz Czyzewski, NCU

A ‘vampire’ or a common revenant?

Borrini said more research is needed to confirm that it was the burial of someone suspected of being a vampire.

There were many superstitions about death in Europe at the time, and not all of them had to do with vampires, she said. The bodies were found locked away in their final resting place, nailed to the bottom of the grave, with stones weighing down their feet, or with rose thorns on their graves.

These were all ways to keep the body from rising that didn’t necessarily have to do with vampirism, she said.

The scythe could mean something else entirely. For example, a 2015 paper examining remains buried in Poland with scythes around various body parts looked at cases where historians have suggested that the tools, used in agriculture, could be a sign of social status.

Bodies that were clearly believed to be at risk of being vampires were found with stakes through their hearts, decapitated, burned or with stones in their mouths, Borrini said.

“The fact that feet were locked up in graves is something well known, not necessarily for vampires, but for all the situations where we’ve had a fear that the person would come back,” she said.

The blade and padlock found in Pién, Poland, shown here on a table.

The blade and padlock found in Pién, Poland, shown here on a table.Andrzej Romanski, NCU

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