Archeologists discovered a 17th-century Polish ‘vampire’ with a sickle across its neck meant to prevent a return from the dead

The skeletal remains of what may have been a female “vampire” were found in a 17th-century Polish graveyard — with a sickle across its neck to prevent the woman from rising from the dead.

Professor Dariusz Poliński from Nicolaus Copernicus University headed up the archaeological dig that led to the discovery of the skeleton, the Daily Mail reported.

“The sickle was not laid flat but placed on the neck in such a way that if the deceased had tried to get up, most likely the head would have been cut off or injured,” Poliński told the Daily Mail.

The remains, discovered in the village of Pień near Ostromecko, Poland, appear to be of a young woman buried in the 17th century, according to a press release seen by Insider. Traces of a silk cap on her head suggested she was from a higher social status, per the Daily Mail. 

“Such a discovery, especially here in Poland, is astonishing, especially now — centuries later,” Poliński told CBS. “Pure astonishment.”

A triangular padlock was placed around the big toe on her left foot, an indicator that the people who buried the woman were concerned that she may rise from the grave, perhaps because they thought she was a vampire.

The remains, which were discovered in August, are being further investigated by scientists. CBS reported researchers from the Institute of Archaeology at the University of Krakow will study DNA from the skeleton to learn more about the woman

The practice of “vampire” burials spanned Christian Europe from as early as the 14th century all the way to the 17th century, Matteo Borrini, principal lecturer of forensic anthropology at the Liverpool John Moore University, told Insider. 

Outbreaks of “vampires” were often associated with times when people were dying from causes that could not be explained with the science of the time — like a pandemic or a mass poisoning, he said.

“These ‘vampires’ start to hunt and kill family members first, then the neighbors, and then all the other village. This is the classical pattern of a disease that is contagious,” he said.

Borrini discovered the remains of a woman in Venice who died in the 16th-century, which he showed through careful scientific examination was a “vampire” burial site.

The remains were found in a mass grave filled in with victims of the plague. This body had a stone placed carefully in its mouth.

The belief at the time was that people could become Nachzehrers, vampires that chewed through their shrouds and rose from the dead to bite the living and spread the plague around, he said.

Later on, as the lore evolved, people believed that vampires were rising from the dead and strangling people the night. Borrini said this may be a way to explain the chest pain caused by the leading cause of death in Europe at the time: tuberculosis. 

It’s only in Victorian times that vampires were said to bite the neck and suck the blood, a trope that was used in books at the time as a “sort of metaphor of sex,” said Borrini. 

Borrini said more research is needed to confirm this was the burial of someone suspected to be a vampire. 

There were many superstitions surrounding death in Europe at that time, and not all of them had to do with vampires, he said. Bodies have been found locked into their final resting place, nailed to the bottom of the grave, with stones weighing down their feet, or with thorns of roses on their graves.

These were all ways to keep the body from rising up that didn’t necessarily have to do with vampirism, he said.

The sickle could mean something completely different. For instance, a 2015 paper looking at remains buried in Poland with sickles around various parts of the body reviewed cases in which historians suggested that the tools, used in agriculture, could be a sign of social status.

Bodies that were clearly thought at risk of being vampires have been found with stakes through their heart, beheaded, burned, or with stones in the mouth, Borrini said.

“The fact that the feet were locked in the graves is something well known, not necessarily for vampires, but for all the situations in which we had the fear that the person was coming back,” he said.