Researchers believe early Medieval villagers in England buried a teenage girl face-down in a pit — a deviation from the time period’s typical burial practices — to prevent her from coming back after death.
Archeologists unearthed the remains of a 15-year-old girl in a Medieval settlement near Conington, Cambridgeshire during excavations that took place as part of an archeological program tied to a national highways improvement project between 2016 and 2018, according to a Monday press release from the Museum of London Archaeology or MOLA.
Years later, scientists with the MOLA Headland Infrastructure have concluded their analysis of the gravesite and the girl within it, offering new insight into ninth century burial rituals in the region.
Despite the presence of Christianity in the country at the time, church cemeteries were not yet the norm in 9th century England, and there were few uniform burial customs during the period, the museum said. The museum stated that the most common burial position is that the corps was buried face up.
Archeologists, however, discovered the Conington girl buried face-down in a pit that marked the entrance to the small settlement and believe her ankles may have also been tied together, according to the MOLA statement.
“Her ankles were also buried in the same position, which suggests that they had been bound together. MOLA’s senior human osteologist Don Walker stated this fact in a statement. “This implies that the community took extra measures to ensure she could not ‘return’ from the grave.”
The finding calls to mind several recent discoveries of “vampire” burials across Europe, in which researchers believe ancient villagers took extreme precautions to keep the dead from rising due to mythological superstitions. The practice of “vampire burials” was most common across Christian Europe from the 14th century to the 17th century, Matteo Borrini, the principal lecturer of forensic anthropology at Liverpool John Moores University, previously told Insider.
The Medieval girl’s burial predates widespread vampire beliefs by several centuries, suggesting the reasons behind her unusual burial — superstitious though they may be — could be tied to other, non-vampiric fears among her people.
Osteologists who study human bones at MOLA found signs of childhood malnutrition in the girl, as well as a spinal joint disease which was likely exacerbated by ongoing manual labor she undertook starting at a young age, both of which indicate she was of low social status, the museum said.
Researchers are uncertain how exactly she died, but there is no evidence she was seriously ill, indicating she may have died suddenly or unexpectedly.
Dariusz Polinski, an archaeology professor from Nicolaus Copernicus University who has unearthed two “vampire” burials in a Polish graveyard, told Insider earlier this month that sudden, violent, or unexplained deaths in ancient communities often stoked fear among the living, leading them to take precautions when burying the deceased person.
Researchers with MOLA believe being buried face-down was a marker of “otherness,” reserved for those who did not fit into Medieval society, including people who looked or behaved differently from others, those of low social status, and those who died violently or of unexplainable causes.
“We will probably never know exactly how this young woman was viewed by the community she grew up in, but the way she was buried tells us she was almost certainly seen as different,” Walker said. “Her burial rites may have reflected the nature of her death, or her social identity or that of her family.”