Suspected Human Sacrifices Unearthed Beneath Medieval Castle
Three skeletons believed to have been murdered as part of human sacrifice rites have been discovered within the foundations of a 1,000-year-old castle in South Moravia.
Břeclav is a town in the South Moravian Lednice-Valtice valley of the Czech Republic, located about 55 km (34 mi) southeast of Brno, and this is where our story begins, in 1041 AD, when a stone stronghold was required at a strategic position on the Dyje River to protect the border with what is today Lower Austria.
The discovery of the three skeletons dating to the early 11th century, according to a report on Archaeology News Network, are believed to have been ritually murdered during the castle building project and archaeologist Miroslav Dejmal from Masaryk University said “these unfortunates seem to have fallen victim to some drastic pagan practice, or murder.” And Dejmal added that he found it “hard to imagine” all three men had died in an accident at the same time.
The castle in Břeclav, South Moravian, Czech Republic, where the human sacrifice victims were found. (Pudelek (Marcin Szala) / CC BY-SA 4.0)
The Sacrificial Origins of Haunted Houses
Dejmal explains that the men had been placed on the first layer of stones of a the newly constructed rampart and their positions also suggested they were sacrificed. Next week a team of anthropologists will attempt to shine light on the mystery of the three sacrificed men, to learn if they were local and perhaps related, and the archaeologist said it is possible they were prisoners of war enslaved into building the stone walls before being sacrificed or executed.
Archaeologists use the term “foundation sacrifice” when referring to burying a human being beneath, within or upon the foundations of buildings. An article on JSTOR says in medieval times building a structure was an “affront to the spirits and deities of the land” and to appease them, sacrificial rituals were performed.
Believed to have been transformed by death, the sacrificed became protective spirits that guarded the buildings in which they were entombed, and this concept according to Seán Ó Súilleabháin in his 1945 paper “Foundation Sacrifices” is perhaps “the root of our modern haunted-house tales.”
Human sacrifice remains found in the South Moravia, Czech Republic. (Archaia Brno)
Child Trafficking in the 11th Century
According to Alan Dundes 1995 paper published in The Journal of American Folklore, all across the Balkans, ballads about foundation sacrifices are so renowned that variants of the tale have been embraced as part of national identity in Hungary, Romania, Serbia, and Greece (among other places).
An Albanian version of the tale “Rozafa’s Castle,” tells of “three brothers” laying the walls of a mighty fortress when old man said “the castle spirit seeks a human life.” And there is plenty of evidence for foundation sacrifice substitution where empty coffins buried under houses representing the dead and coins, eggs, books, candles, bottles of wine and playing cards were used as sacrificial substitutes.
An example of human sacrifice is found in the history of the small village of Vestenberg, 2 1/2 hours from Ansbach in Germany, where a large hill surrounded by a deep moat holds the foundations of ancient stone towers built by the Vestenbergs, the wealthiest family of medieval Franconia. According to D. L. Ashliman of the University of Pittsburgh, in his paper Human Sacrifice in Legends and Myths, an eighty-year-old woman said that when Vestenberg Castle was being built, the mason built a seat into the wall for a small child whose mother had given it up to be sacrificed for “a large sum of money.”
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Return to the Ancient Murder Scene
Returning to the Lednice-Valtice valley, and the early 11th century building of Břeclav castle, considering how commonplace and widespread foundation sacrifices were at that time, the question of the three men chained together upon the first layer of foundation stones is no longer a mystery as much as it is a point of newfound archaeological interest.
As soon as next week, a new team of archaeologists and anthropologists will head to South Moravia to begin their quest aimed at illustrating the circumstances of their deaths, but they are quite convinced that they will find further layers of evidence of sacrificial ritual.
Top image: Human sacrifice remains found in South Moravia, Czech Republic. Source: Archaia Brno
By Ashley Cowie