All we’ve got are bones

History is ugly. You can dig up things that will horrify you.

Archaeologists in Poland have unearthed the 400-year-old skeleton of a young child buried face-down with an iron padlock on its foot – seemingly to stop its rising from the dead.

The child was buried in the 17th century in the village of Pień near Poland’s northern city of Bydgoszcz, in what seems to have been a graveyard for “abandoned souls” and the poor who could not afford to be buried in a churchyard.

The archaeologists estimate the child was between 5 and 7 years old at death.

OK, dead child who was demonized and buried with a symbol of mistrust. I have to wonder about the pain the family must have felt…although they also found more bodies buried with various vampire accoutrements. Maybe it was a whole blighted family cursed by the religious abuses of their culture?


  1. Oggie: Mathom says

    I suspect (not having done a whole lot of reading on anything close to this (so this is pulled out of my arse)) that many, if not most, of the cases such as this stem from either non-neurotypical or actual medical conditions. Children who are ‘off’ but do not show any outward signs of illness or birth defects would be prime candidates for identification as witches, possessed, or other ‘diagnoses’.

  2. says

    I have to wonder about the pain the family must have felt…

    Probably not much, relatively speaking. Infant mortality was much higher back then, and whatever policies or decisions led to that child’s burial were probably widespread, accepted, and taken for granted throughout the parents’ lifetimes. This sort of thing was likely “normal” for that society in that time.

  3. raven says

    It couldn’t happen here.
    Oh, wait. It did happen here.

    There was a Vampire Panic in New England and it was a lot more recent than 400 years ago. One of the most notorious cases, Mercy Brown in Rhode Island, happened in 1892.

    In both Europe and the USA, victims of tuberculosis were sometimes claimed to be Vampires. This disease was common, not treatable, and spread through families in a hit and miss fashion.
    It was thought that people who died from tuberculosis were coming back from the dead to take the blood of the living.

    Wikipedia New England Vampire Panic

    The New England vampire panic was the reaction to an outbreak of tuberculosis in the 19th century throughout Rhode Island, eastern Connecticut, southern Massachusetts, Vermont, and other areas of the New England states.[1] Consumption (tuberculosis) was thought to be caused by the deceased consuming the life of their surviving relatives.[2] Bodies were exhumed and internal organs ritually burned to stop the “vampire” from attacking the local population and to prevent the spread of the disease. Notable cases provoked national attention and comment, such as those of Mercy Brown in Rhode Island and Frederick Ransom in Vermont.

    Tuberculosis was known as “consumption” at the time, as it appeared to consume an infected person’s body.[3] It is now known to be a bacterial disease, but the cause was unknown until the late 19th century.[4] The infection spreads easily among a family; thus, when one family member died of consumption, other members were often infected and gradually lost their health. People believed that this was due to the deceased TB sufferer draining the life from other family members.[2] The belief that consumption was spread in this way was widely held in New England[5]: 214  and in Europe.[6]

  4. cartomancer says

    Most Medieval and Early Modern European folklore surrounding revenants (of which Eastern European vampires were a subset) stems from the same kinds of social and cultural upheavals that led to witch panics. On the other hand, witch panics tended to target alive and marginalised individuals, vampire panics those who had already died under awful circumstances. Children dying of horrible diseases would be prime candidates. As such, it is not really the same on a moral level – these sorts of precautions were in some ways a kindness, to prevent the deceased from coming back and terrorising the living. Generally persecutions for witchcraft and persecutions for vampirism didn’t overlap much.

  5. birgerjohansson says

    Horrifying things that will horrify the White Power crowd:

    Ötzi the Iceman had dark skin (and likely to get bald). He was of Anatolian descent.
    I knew of course that the hunter-gatherer “Cheddar Man” had dark skin, but not that dark skin remained common in the bronze age.