The Buried Children Found in Poland With Coins In Their Mouths
In 2020, the centuries-old remains of 115 children’s bodies were discovered by construction workers laying a road in in Podkarpackie province, south-east Poland. This apparently bizarre discovery confirmed a long-standing local belief that a lost children's graveyard was located somewhere in the Church Mountains area. Archaeologists who investigated the find discovered that many of the children had coins placed in their mouths.
According to an article in The First News, the children’s bodies were discovered during work on a section of the S19 motorway, which is part of the 700 kilometer (435 mile) long Via Carpatia project to link the Baltic states with south-eastern Europe, running through Podlasie, Mazovia, Lublin and Podkarpacie. The General Directorate for National Roads and Motorways confirmed the discovery, saying that about “70-80 percent of all burials are children” and that they had been found in sandy ground on an east-west axis with their heads facing west.
Some of the children’s skeletons had coins in their mouths (Arkadia Firma Archeologiczna)
Most of the children’s bodies were buried in individual graves but a group of four bodies had been positioned in close formation, but not on top of each other, and all their heads were resting to one side facing west towards the setting sun. The fourth child, resting on the edge of the group, was considerably younger than the other three. When archaeologists looked more closely at the bodies, they found many of the children had coins placed in their mouths. In a Global Legal Chronicle article, archaeologist Katarzyna Oleszek, who worked at the site, stated that the mysterious coins are a sign of the belief in “obols of the dead” or “Charon’s obol” which comes from a pre-Christian burial tradition that was practiced as late as the nineteenth century by Pope Pius IX.
Burial Myths and the Coins Found in Some Children’s Mouths
In Greek and Roman mythology, Charon or Kharon, was the ferryman of Hades who carried souls of the newly deceased across the rivers Styx and Acheron that divided the world of the living from the world of the dead. A coin, known as ”Charon ’s obol,” was required to pay Charon for passage and these were often placed in the mouths of the dead. Most of the coins found in the children’s mouths had been minted during the reign of King Sigismund III Vasa of Poland (1587-1632 AD). Some coins known as boratynki were also discovered which date from the reign of King John II Casimir (1648-1668 AD).
Portrait of King John II Casimir Vasa. (Public Domain)
No other artifacts or burial articles were recovered at the site: no buttons, nails or even coffin handles. Archaeologist Katarzyna Oleszek told the Polish Press Agency that the community that buried the children was likely “very poor.” Furthermore, Oleszek said the arrangement of the skeletons and their state of preservation shows that the discovery is a Catholic church cemetery. It is known from written sources that during a visit of the bishops of Kraków to Jeżowe in 1604 there was already “a large parish church, with a garden, a rectory, a school and a cemetery. It probably existed already since 1590.”
The find confirms archaeologists’ theories and the speculations of locals that children were buried in a cemetery in the Church Mountains area. (Arkadia Firma Archeologiczna)
Coins in the Mouths of the Buried Children: Payment to Cross The Styx
The area in which the deceased children were discovered is now forested and there are no grave markers, with only a small chapel offering any signs of the former church. In a Facebook post the archaeologists said the bodies would be exhumed and after being studied by anthropologists they will eventually be passed to the local parish church and reburied in the local cemetery to continue their journey across the River Styx.
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On a supernatural and mythological level, one only hopes that the children’s bodies are reinterred with the coins back in their mouths, for they need these Charon's obols to pay the toll for the ferry across the River Styx to the entrance to the underworld. It was said in times past that if someone could not pay the fee, they would never be able to cross the river, and that their souls would be trapped forever between this world and the next.
Top image: The buried children found in Poland were in sandy ground and were arranged on an east-west axis, all with heads to the west on their backs with the hands at their sides. Source: Arkadia Firma Archeologiczna
By Ashley Cowie