Modern day society aren’t the only ones fascinated by the undead. Ancient Greeks on the Island of Sicily had a fear so awful that they weighed the bodies of the dead down with rocks to keep them from rising from their graves and haunt the living.
“On the other hand, and aradoxically, Carrie L. Sulosky Weaver (Popular Archaeology) writes, the Greeks also tried to contact the dead for divination through a practice called necromancy.”
Archaeologists had been working in a large cemetery near Kamarina, an ancient coastal town southeast Sicily, and exhumed 2 905 bodies with burial goods. In the necropolis (‘city of the dead’) called Passo Marinaro, in use from the 5th through 3rd centuries BC, they found grave goods including coins, figurines and terracotta vases.
Although, on two of the bodies, they found large stones placed on the head, feet and torso to weigh down the dead and keep them to their place – The land of the dead, ruled by Hades.
“For the ancient Greeks, the dead were subjects of both fear and supplication. Necrophobia, or the fear of the dead, is a concept that has been present in Greek culture since the Neolithic period. At the heart of this phobia is the belief that corpses are able to reanimate and exist in a state that is neither living nor dead, but rather ‘undead’”. Weaver writes in her paper published in Popular Archaeology Magazine. “These liminal figures are deemed to be dangerous because it is understood that they leave their graves at night for the explicit purpose of harming the living. As a means of protection, the alleged undead were pinned in their graves or ritually ‘killed’. Lest not forget that they also practiced Necromancy to try and invocate the dead.”
The first body was a person of undetermined sex who was sick and extremely malnourished. The head and feet were entirely covered with large fragments from amphorae. “The heavy amphora fragments found in Tomb 653 were presumably intended to pin the individual to the grave and prevent it from rising.”
The other grave had the remains of a child, whom researchers also could not determine sex for, was between 8 – 13-years-old at the time of death. The body had five large stones on top of it.
“Although there are no clear indicators in either the burial contexts or the skeletal remains that would explain why the occupants of Kamarinean Tombs 653 and 693 were pinned in their graves, their special treatment suggests that necrophobic beliefs and practices were present in Greek Sicily.” Carrie wrote.
Popular Archaeology says Weaver cites ancient documents and archaeological research concerning the Mediterranean in the Neolithic (New stone age beginning about 7 000 years ago) to the 19th century AD that support her theory that the two burials were considered revenants or undead. We can add Zombies here to as to what we call them in modern age.
On the practice of necromancy, she wrote: “The dead were typically entreated by means of binding spells inscribed on thin sheets of lead. These spells, called ‘Katadesmoi’, were deposited in graves during nighttime ceremonies. Often petitioners sought to redress a wrong that had been committed, such as avenging a murder or returning a stolen inheritance, but ‘Katadesmoi’ were also used to gain an advantage in love or business.”
She explained that the Greeks were deep believers in the Supernatural Phenomena, quoting: “The writings of ancient authors give us a glimpse into the minds and beliefs of the Greeks, and it’s clear that many members of the society thought that the dead could roam the earth. They imagined scenarios in which reanimated corpses rose from their graves, prowled the streets and stalked unsuspecting victims, often to exact retribution denied to them in life. Even those who could not physically leave their tombs posed a threat, since mediums could easily invoke restless spirits and convince them to commit heinous acts. These ideas were mainstream, and not rooted in folklore or fantasy, because the cultural and religious foundations of the ancient Greeks led them to believe that death was not necessarily a permanent state. Instead, there were special cases in which it could be fluid, blurring the seemingly rigid lines that separate the living from the dead.”