'"Vampire burial" reveals efforts to prevent child's return from grave'
The discovery of a 10-year-old's body at an ancient Roman site in Italy suggests measures were taken to prevent the child, possibly infected with malaria, from rising from the dead and spreading disease to the living.
The skeletal remains, uncovered by archaeologists from the University of Arizona and Stanford University, along with archaeologists from Italy, included a skull with a rock intentionally inserted into the mouth. Researchers believe the stone may have been placed there as part of a funeral ritual designed to contain disease -- and the body itself.
The discovery of this unusual, so-called "vampire burial" was made over the summer in the commune of Lugnano in Teverina in the Italian region of Umbria, where UA archaeologist David Soren has overseen archaeological excavations since 1987.
"I've never seen anything like it. It's extremely eerie and weird," said Soren, a Regents' Professor in the UA School of Anthropology and Department of Religious Studies and Classics. "Locally, they're calling it the 'Vampire of Lugnano.'"
The discovery was made at La Necropoli dei Bambini, or the Cemetery of the Babies, which dates to the mid-fifth century when a deadly malaria outbreak swept the area, killing many vulnerable babies and small children. The bodies of the young victims were buried at the site of an abandoned Roman villa that was originally constructed at the end of the first century B.C.