Archaeologists in Poland have uncovered the remains of a 17th-century child padlocked to his grave to stop him rising from the dead, a discovery that turns the spotlight on beliefs in vampires as Halloween approaches.
The bones of the 6- or 7-year-old are the most recent find in a cemetery in the northern Polish village of Pien dating from an era that viewed ghosts, zombies and other supernatural apparitions as more than merely fancy dress options.
A woman’s body was also found in the cemetery with a padlock on her leg and a sickle around the neck, suggesting she was believed to be a vampire.
“This is a cemetery for rejected people, who were certainly feared after death, and perhaps also during life … who were suspected of having contacts with unclean forces, people who also behaved differently in some way,” said Dariusz Polinski, a researcher on medieval burials at Nicolaus Copernicus University in the city of Toruń.
The child was buried facedown with a triangular iron padlock under its foot, in a probable effort to keep it from sitting up and leaving the grave to feast on the living, he added.
“These are people who, if it was done intentionally, were afraid of … contact with these people because they might bite, drink blood,” Polinski said.
The child’s grave was desecrated at some point after burial and all bones removed apart from those in the legs.
Archaeologists have found other methods used to stop the living dead, with Polinski describing strange practices found in some burials.
“There were also a large number of graves with stones … which were also supposed to protect against the deceased, placed in various places, for example on the elbow, on the larynx or on the neck.”