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Vampire burial discovered by UA archeologists in Italy

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Courtesy David Soren

The skeleton was found at La Necropoli dei Bambini, which translates to “Cemetery of the Babies,” by a team of UA archaeologists in Italy. 

With Halloween just a few days away, University of Arizona archaeologist David Soren, along with other archaeologists from the UA, Stanford and Italy, made a “fangtastic” discovery.

On Oct. 11 a 10-year-old’s body was discovered at a fifth-century cemetery in Italy, according to a UA News press release. While the discovery of a body from this time period is always fascinating, what made this discovery standout was how the body was buried. A stone was placed inside the child’s mouth in what is known as a “vampire burial.” The purpose of the stone would have been to prevent the child from rising from the dead, spreading malaria to everyone around. 

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While Soren himself wasn’t there for the discovery, he nonetheless heard about it right away. 

“I was in contact via Skype with our UA team over there,” Soren said. “Right by the burial was a two- or three-year-old girl buried with stones on her hands and a large tile over her feet to hold her down as well. I had discovered that thirty years ago, but David Pickel, our current site director, was unable to excavate the new burial until now.”

The body was found at La Necropoli dei Bambini, which translates to “Cemetery of the Babies.” The cemetery dates back to the fifth century, when an outbreak of malaria swept over the area. “I always try to choose unique sites if I can,” Soren said. “There is no point in digging up a site where you don’t learn something unique. This site in particular proved to be the earliest ever found with clear DNA evidence of malaria.” 

Archaeologists had previously believed the cemetery was strictly for infants, toddlers and unborn fetuses, with the three-year-old being the oldest child found before this. “The people of the fifth century were following their local religious beliefs,” Soren said. “They employed witches or healers to try and rid the area of what to them seemed like a paranormal event. They thought they were being religious, not superstitious.”

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The newly found child’s age was based on dental development, and the sex is unknown. “There are still sections of the cemetery that we haven’t excavated yet, so we don’t know if we’ll find other older kids,” said bioarcheologist Jordan Wilson, a UA doctoral student who analyzed the remains in Italy. 

The discovery of the 10-year-old was the first at the cemetery with a stone found inside of its mouth. The position of the child’s jaw, which would not have opened of natural causes during decomposition, means the rock was placed into the mouth after death.

While the threat of vampires is not something we need to worry about anytime soon, having some garlic cloves and wooden stakes available might eventually come in handy down the road. “I’d choose the stake,” said Soren jokingly on how he’d rid the world of vampires. “I probably wouldn’t mind the vampire so much, but I can’t stand being around individuals with bad breath.”


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