Archaeologists uncover 'witch' burial in Italy
Archaeologists have uncovered an ancient skeleton of a teenage girl in Albenga, Italy, which had been buried face down, according to a report on Discovery News . The researchers say that burying an individual in this way was indicative of the person having been rejected by society or considered a danger, possibly due to accusations of witchcraft.
The discovery was made during an archaeological dig carried out by the Vatican’s Pontifical Institute of Christian Archaeology, at the complex of San Calocero – a burial ground on which a church was built around the 5 th and 6 th centuries AD – located in Albenga along the Ligurian Riviera in northern Italy.
Burial complex at San Calocero, Italy. Image source .
The excavation director, Stefano Roascio, said that such burials were carried out as an act of punishment intended to humiliate the dead, and discoveries like this were considered rare. According to the research team, in extreme cases, victims were buried alive in the facedown position, however, this was not the case with the newly discovered burial.
“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 Dellù told Discovery News .
A similar practice in the Middle Ages was linked with a belief in vampires, in which the deceased had a stone wedged in their mouth, or was even pinned to the ground with a stake. People believed this would prevent them from leaving at midnight and terrorising the living. The legends formed an important part of folklore throughout Europe. In Bulgaria alone, more than 100 such ‘vampire’ burials have been found .
Skeleton found with a stone wedged in the mouth. Credit: Chris Read
The skeleton discovered in Albenga belongs to a girl aged approximately 13-years-old, however, radiocarbon dating has not yet been carried out to determine from which era she once lived. The burial ground was in use between around the 5 th century AD and the 16 th century AD, and researchers believe the skeleton dates from the late antiquity or early Middle Ages.
It is unusual to find a young girl buried in such a way, as most ‘deviant burials’ are associated with adults. Just what this girl did to elicit fear in the community is a mystery.
Featured image: Skeleton found buried face down in Italy. Credit: Stefano Roascio