In 2014, Discover News reported about an archaeological find where a grave belonging to a teenage girl had been found in Albenga, Italy. The skeleton was facing the ground which back in the days meant that this particular individual was either rejected by society or posed a threat to it due to accusations of witchcraft.
The archaeological dig was led by a department in the Vatican called ‘Vatican’s Pontifical Institute of Christian Archaeology. The location of the dig was at the complex of San Calocero – a burial ground where a church was built around the 5th and 6th centuries AD – In Albenga in northern Italy.
Stefano Roascio, excavation director, stated that burials like this were carried out to punish or humiliate the dead, and discoveries like these were extremely rare. In extreme cases, the victims were buried facedown while alive, which didn’t happen to the victim they had found.
“The prone burial was linked to the belief that the soul left the body through the mouth. Burying the dead facedown was a way to prevent the impure soul threatening the living,” anthropologist Elena Dellu told Dicovery News.
A similar burial practice can be compared from the Middle Ages where beliefs of Vampires was spreading throughout Europe. The deceased would have a stone wedged in their mouth or could be pinned to the ground with a stake. This was believed to prevent the dead to wake up and terrorize the living when darkness fell upon the world. These legends would form an important part of European folklore. In Bulgaria alone, more than 100 such ‘vampires’ had been found up until the first news of the find was posted back in 2014.
The bones discovered in Italy belonged to a girl dated to have become 13-years-old, but radiocarbon dating had not been carried out back in 2014, so the archaeologists could not be sure of which era this poor girl might have lived. The whole burial ground was used from 5th century AD until 16th century AD.
It is believed that the girl lived during the late antiquity or early Middle Ages.
For findings like these, it is very unusual to find a young girl buried this way, since most ‘deviant burials’ are mostly associated with adults. What did this girl actually do to have her whole society turn against her in fear?
The answer to that, my friends, turns out to be a simple case of Scurvey. How unfortunate that a disease considered rare in our time could result in accusations of witchcraft back in those days.
Later, in 2015, another teenage girl, around 14-16-years-old, was found at the burial site. Indicating the same situation as the 13-year-old. Unfortunately researchers could not establish reason of death since her bones were so damage by being burnt either alive or close after death.