Mutilated human remains and burned bones found in a moat in England dating back to medieval times reveal how superstitious villagers tried to keep the dead from rising and coming back to life, according to a new study.(resistance against zombies in Medieval England)
The notion of “revenant” – a ghost or corpse that looms again among the living – was common in medieval folklore, however the desecrated and mixed remains found in the village of Wharram Percy in North Yorkshire are believed to be the first Evidence in England of ancient efforts to ensure that the dead are still dead.
“If we are right, then this is the first good archaeological evidence we have for this practice,” says human skeletal biologist Simon Mays of England’s historic historical preservation body.(resistance against zombies in Medieval England)
“It shows us a dark side of medieval beliefs and gives us a graphic reminder of how different the medieval view of the world was from ours.” Aerial view of the medieval village of Wharram Percy. Credit: Historic England The Mays team studied 137 desecrated bones representing the remains of at least 10 individuals: seven adults (five men and two women), plus three small children.(resistance against zombies in Medieval England)
The skeletons date back to the 11th and 14th centuries – most likely to represent multiple burials – and were originally discovered during an excavation in 1963, but have not been closely examined until now.
The remains were buried in three superimposed wells near where a house was built later – not near the village church or cemetery. Right parietal of an adult skull showing burn marks. Credit: Historic England Among the bones, the team found macabre evidence of decapitation, knife marks (confined to the upper body), burns of body parts and deliberate breaking of bones after death.(resistance against zombies in Medieval England)
Given the nature of the mutilation and the unconventional burial place where bones were mixed, researchers wonder if the skeletons were from outsiders who might have been intentionally buried away from the village people. But the traces of the dental enamel indicated that, who were such people, were in fact local.
“The strontium isotopes in the teeth reflect the geology in which an individual was living as his teeth formed in infancy,” says one of the team members , archaeologist Alistair Pike of the University of Southampton in the United Kingdom.
“A relationship between the isotopes in the teeth and the geology around Wharram Percy suggests they grew up in an area near where they were buried, possibly in the village.”
The lower half of a thoracic vertebra shows two nearly parallel knife cuts. Credit: Historic England Another possibility is that the marks may have reflected cannibalism in the village during periods of famine – which were common in medieval England, and supported by some evidence of bone breakage that could have resulted from cooking processes.
“The case of cannibalism is supported by the fracture of the long bones, which would be consistent with the extraction of marrow,” explain the authors in their article , “although, alternatively, this could represent part of a spectrum of actions to combat A ‘corpse that returns from death’.
The team also noticed that the marks of the knives in the bones were concentrated around the head and neck, not the muscles and large joints, where the researchers hoped to find them. In the absence of other explanations, the team concludes that while the scenario of cannibalism is a possibility, they think that marks and mutilations are more likely to be some kind of ritual process to prevent corpses from rising.
“The idea that Wharram Percy’s bones are the remains of burned and dismembered corpses to keep them from rising from their graves seems to fit the evidence better,” says Mays . The team acknowledges that the explanation of “revenant” is just a hypothesis at this point, but it is possible that future archaeological discoveries may help to clarify the mystery if we can find further evidence of this strange and disturbing ritual. The findings have been published in the Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports .
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