Two early medieval skeletons were unearthed recently in Ireland with large stones wedged into their mouths — evidence, archaeologists say, that it was feared the individuals would rise from their graves like zombies. The skeletons, which were featured in a British documentary last week, emerged during a series of digs carried out between 2005 and 2009 at Kilteasheen, near Loch Key in Ireland by a team of archaeologists.
The project recovered a total of 137 skeletons, although archaeologists believe that some 3,000 skeletons spanning from 700 to 1400 are still buried at the site. The “deviant burials” were comprised of two men who were buried there at different times in the 700s. One of the men was between 40 and 60 years old, and the other was a young adult, probably between 20 and 30 years old. The two men were laid side by side and each had a baseball-sized rock shoved in his mouth.
“One of them was lying with his head looking straight up. A large black stone had been deliberately thrust into his mouth,” Chris Read, head of Applied Archaeology at IT Sligo, said. “The other had his head turned to the side and had an even larger stone wedged quite violently into his mouth so that his jaws were almost dislocated,” he added.
Initially, Read and colleagues thought they had found a Black Death-related burial ground. Remains of individuals buried at the end of the Middle Ages with stones stuck in their mouths have hinted at vampire-slaying rituals. It was believed that these “vampire” individuals spread the plague by chewing on their shrouds after dying. In a time before germ theory, the stone in the mouth was then used as a disease-blocking trick. Since the vampire phenomenon didn’t emerge in European folklore until the 1500’s, the archaeologists ruled out this theory for the 8th century skeletons.
“In this case, the stones in the mouth might have acted as a barrier to stop revenants from coming back from their graves,”