Hundreds of years ago when the fear of vampire was very real, a common belief in many countries was that vampires not only fed on blood, but that they also spread the plague. At the time villagers took an assortment of precautions to keep vampires from terrorizing them, everything from putting a brick in a corpse’s mouth to hammering nails into various body parts to keep them in their grave. The brick was placed to keep the “vampire” from eating its grave shroud, eating others and from spreading the plague. In 2006 the skeleton of a 16th-century woman with a brick jammed between her jaws was discovered in Italy, proof that the belief in vampires was very real during those times.
No such discovers have been made since then – until now. Archeologists have unearthed two 8th-century skeletons with rocks jammed into their mouths in Kilteasheen, Ireland. What makes this discovery even more interesting than the one in Italy is that this predates the emergence of vampires. You see, in the 16th-century vampire hysteria had spread all over Europe, virtually everyone feared the undead. But in the 8th-century that wasn’t the case. So these two new skeletons are definitely raising a few eyebrows.
“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,” said Chris Read, head of Applied Archaeology at IT Sligo.
“One of them was lying with his head looking straight up. A large black stone had been deliberately thrust into his mouth. 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.”
The researchers originally thought they discovered a Black Death-related burial ground since the whole rock in the mouth vampire rituals took place during the Middle Ages.
“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,” said Read.
However, considering these skeletons date back to the 8th-century, researchers cannot link the corpses’ condition to the vampire hysteria that began in the 1500s. Chris Read speculated that the corpses could have had stones lodged in their mouths to prevent their evil spirits from escaping the grave.
“The two Irish men could have been considered potentially dangerous people, such as enemies, murderers, rapists or they could have been ordinary individuals who died suddenly from a strange illness or murder. Anything outside the norm would have caused the community to fear that these people could have come back to life to harass their loved ones or others against whom they had a grudge. The mouth was seen as a key part of the body for such a transformation. It was viewed as the main portal for the soul to leave the body upon death. Sometimes, the soul could come back to the body and re-animate it or else an evil spirit could enter the body through the mouth and bring it back to life,” Read said.
So, while they can’t actually link vampires to these new skeletons, it is highly fascinating that they put rocks in the mouths of the dead long before people did it to stop vampires.