If you've seen graves with bars on them, perhaps you've wondered whether the people who buried their dead were worried that their loved ones would rise up in zombie form. As it turns out, they likely were. Studying a medieval pit in England, researchers found that villagers of the time even mutilated the bodies of the deceased to ensure that they would stay in their graves.
The multidisciplinary study focuses on a group of medieval human remains found between the years of 1963 and 1964 in the village of Wharram, Percy in England. They were found, not in churchyard, but instead in a village pit now known as Area 6.
The 137 bone fragments from at least ten individuals showed large evidence of perimortem hacking, chopping, smashing, and even burning. Evidence of chopping with a sharp knife was seen in 17 of the bones, a minimum of another 17 bones showed evidence of low-temperature burning, while six others showed perimortem breakage.
The studied bone fragments sustained a total of 76 sharp force marks.
What's more, radiocarbon dating showed that the brutal damages to the remains were inflicted between 11 and 13th century CE, indicating that the hacking and burning of remains were done in more than one event.
Starvation And Cannibalism?
Ruling out the possibility of the remains being of non-locals, researchers turned to the possibility that perhaps the 12 famines experienced between 1066 and 1300 may have prompted the locals to resort to cannibalism.
Though some burn marks could be connected to possible roasting, the evidence does not point to marks consistent with flesh removal for consumption. Instead, they were consistent with decapitation and dismemberment.
Researchers surmise that perhaps a plausible reason for the injuries on the bone fragments was the fear of revenants. The belief in revenant corpses was widespread in medieval northern and western Europe. Revenants are re-animated corpses that arise from the grave, spreading diseases and attacking the living.
In today's world, perhaps they are better known as the zombies from films and television shows. However, they were serious fear-inciting creatures in medieval times, and the most usual method of ensuring that the bodies were to stay in their graves was to dig them up and mutilate the remains.
The fear of revenant corpses was perhaps even exacerbated by the ideas of the origins of reanimation. One belief was that it was Satan who would reanimate the corpses, while others believed that reanimation occurred mostly in individuals who performed malicious deeds in their life.
Though inconclusive, researchers believe the results point more to the prevention of revenant corpses rather than cannibalism.
"It provides a graphic reminder of how different the medieval view of the world was from our own," says Simon Mays, co-author of the study.