The child's body was found face down and padlocked by the ankle, both practices intended to discourage and prevent a return from the grave.
Near the village of Pień, Poland, archaeologists from Nicolaus Copernicus University (NCU) recently uncovered the remains of a 17th-century “vampire” child, buried face down with an “anti-vampire” padlock around its ankle.
As The Mirror reported, archaeologists believe the child was likely aged around five to seven at the time of their death and padlocked as part of a superstitious belief that it would prevent the dead from rising from their grave.
Dariusz Poliński, an archaeologist involved in the excavation, noted that superstitious families would often place “security measures” like padlocks and sickles on the bodies of dead relatives as vampire hysteria peaked in Poland.
“The padlock under the foot symbolizes the closing of a stage of life and is meant to protect against the return of the deceased, which was probably feared,” Poliński said. “Such practices originated in folk beliefs and are sometimes described as anti-vampiric.”
There was, in fact, a wide range of anti-vampire practices put in place by the superstitious. Among these was burying the dead face-down so the deceased would “bite into the ground and not harm the living” should they return to life — just as the newly discovered child was.
“Ways to protect against the return of the dead include cutting off the head or legs, placing the deceased face down to bite into the ground, burning them, and smashing them with a stone,” Poliński explained.
Nearby, the Daily Mail reported, archaeologists discovered a loose cluster of bones belonging to three other children and the fragment of a jaw stained green, which the team said may have been the result of metal-based fever treatments known to have been used during that time.
They also found the remains of a pregnant woman, with a fetus “determined to be roughly five to six months old,” said the university’s Magdalena Zagrodzka.
“This is surprising,” Zagrodzka added, “because the bones of children of this age are poorly mineralized, so they are usually not preserved.”
These new discoveries come from the same graveyard where hundreds of people have been buried over the centuries — including another 17th-century “vampire” who was found with a sickle around her neck and a similar padlock around her toe.
In that instance, archaeologists believed the sickle was put in place to decapitate the woman should she rise from the dead.
“The sickle was not laid flat but placed on the neck in such a way that if the deceased had tried to get up most likely the head would have been cut off or injured,” Poliński said. He also noted the padlock on the skeleton’s left foot likely symbolized “the closing of a stage and the impossibility of returning.”
Similar discoveries have been made previously in other parts of the country.
For example, in 2015, archaeologists working in the village of Drewsko, 130 miles away, found five skeletons buried in a similar fashion at a 400-year-old cemetery. Once again, two of the bodies had sickles pressed against their throats, and another older woman was buried with a sickle across her hips and a medium-sized stone at her throat.
Folklore and mythology about the dead coming back to life date back to antiquity, but specifically in Eastern Europe, records of myths about the undead seem to date back to the 11th century. While these stories had been shared for centuries, though, they reached a boiling point in the 17th and 18th centuries, where fear of the undead even caused mass hysteria in certain regions, leading to the mass execution of accused vampires.
Prominent suspects of being vampires primarily included people who died in strange or untimely manners, such as by suicide. Their bodies were often posthumously mutilated to prevent their return from the dead.
After reading about the discovery of this “vampire” in Poland, read about Mercy Brown, the dead woman blamed for her family’s deaths even though she was already buried. Then, read about the real-life story of Dracula-inspiring Vlad the Impaler.