Happy Halloween!

Halloween first began as ‘All Hallow’s Eve’, a festival to celebrate the eve of the solemn Saint’s Day in Christianity. It is also connected with harvest festivals and festivals of the dead, either Samhain or Parentalia. It is a time when the doors of the otherworld are opened to the deceased for them to visit their homes and families. Feasts are held in their honor, and they were gathered from the houses of neighbors. As it became a Christian holiday, cakes were collected from houses to placate the dead and tricks were played on the houses that didn’t. Slowly they began to dress like the ghosts and spirits that haunted that day. Now its become a day of horror, spooky costumes and  collecting candy from your neighborhood. While most horror stories are simply folklore that has been passed down through the ages or fiction invented by creative minds, there are some archaeological truths to them. This Halloween, shock your friends and family with this knowledge of ‘true’ horrors and monsters.

Vampires:

A new article from Bulgaria argues that archaeologists have ‘stumbled’ upon new evidence of vampires. The evidence for this is that there was a burial of a man with an iron stake through his chest and trauma indicative of stab wounds to the heart. Since the burial dates to the 15th century, they argue that it was likely meant to prevent the individual from rising as a vampire. They argue, based on what evidence I do not know, that he was likely a medic or intellectual and would have been under suspicion. This brings the total number of potential vampires found in Bulgaria from this period to 100 cases. The current pattern shows that they are all men, likely wealthier individuals who would be suspected of evil in life, and were found with injuries indicative of being stabbed after death or were pinned down by metal stakes. This isn’t the first time that an archaeologist has cried ‘vampire’, although it does represent one of the larger cases. A female skeleton recovered from Venice dating to the 16th century was found with a brick in her mouth. She was part of a larger mass grave that contained the bodies of plague victims. Stories of the time period talk of these mass burials being reopened and finding individuals within who looked fresh and were vampires. It is possible that her lack of decomposition of the body and breakdown of the shroud was thought to be a sign of vampirism and the brick in the mouth was a method to prevent her feeding on the living or deceased. (via BDL Archaeology of Vampires).

Frankenstein:

Excavations were conducted at the site of Cladh Hallan, a Bronze Age-Iron Age settlement from the Outer Hebrides, Scotland. Three late Bronze roundhouses were recovered during excavation, and they found the remains of two adults, a sub-adult and an infant underneath these structures. Both adult burials showed unusual indicators of post-mortem manipulation. Portions of the female were recovered in different areas of the house, and her incisors were found with her hands. However, she appeared to represent a single complete skeleton. The male had more obvious manipulation showing potential movement of skeletal elements, and was discovered to be a composite of three different individuals when stable isotope analysis was conducted. Further evidence was found when the mandibular and maxillary dentition failed to match. Initial analysis of the female skeleton further questioned whether it was a single individual. The skull was definitely female, but the pelvis was not as clear begging the question whether they belonged to different individuals and potentially even different sexed individuals. Since each bone revealed different DNA results, this means the skeleton was a composite of at least three individuals (via BDL Composite Skeletons).

Aliens:

Cranial deformation has been the cause of much debate and fascination. The unique shape of the skulls from the Nasca even inspired the most recent Indiana Jones adventure. The elongated skulls and flattened foreheads have created speculation of evidence of aliens or satanic practices. Even this past year, the Daily Mail claimed that skulls found in Peru were potentially those of extraterrestrials. According to the article there are three anthropologists that all agree that these are not human. However, we know that this practice is not only easy to accomplish in humans, but also continues in cultures today (even our own). Moving beyond psuedoarchaeology claims, scholars have still been debating the reasons and methods behind the deformation for hundreds of years. The earliest modified skulls in Peru date between 6000 and 7000 BCE, with the majority of remains from this period showing signs of deformation. There is potential evidence between 1350 to 1200 BCE in Egypt. It has only been found there in elite individuals, and doesn’t appear to be a widespread practice. Modification in Mayan culture was a literal symbol of being the head of the state, and consisted of creating a more erect frontal bone using compression pads. A 16th century Spanish chronicler, Gonzalo Fernández de Oviedo, asked the Mayan why their heads were a different shape, and the reasons behind the modification. They responded: “This is done because our ancestors were told by the gods that if our heads were thus formed we should appear noble and handsome and better able to bear burdens” (via BDL Not Aliens, Just Humans).

What spooky archaeological cases and sites do you know about?

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One response to “Happy Halloween!

  1. Sorry to be a few days late!

    The only “spooky” experience I have had around bones was on a tour of the Paris catacombs, said to house six million skeletons. I did feel slightly taken aback during the first few moments, but I soon began to enjoy myself. I enjoy studying bones in detail, but I found it impossible to do so amid such a dizzying quantity.

    Regarding cranial deformation — this Halloween I gave a short presentation on the local public access cable TV channel about how bones can tell interesting stories, using this this reproduction of a ca. 9th century CE Bolivian skull, which had been cosmetically deformed as well as bearing a healed trepanation.

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