One sign to archeologists that the skeleton they’re examining was buried with the belief that the person was a vampire is a brick or stone placed in the mouth to allegedly prevent them from rising from the grave to bite the neck of a living person. This technique was also used to allegedly prevent zombies. Another thing often found in the mouth of skulls is a coin. The ancient Greco-Roman practice is called Charon’s obol and the coin is a bribe for Charon, the ferryman who carried souls across the River Styx to Hades. Those don’t explain what Polish archeologists found in the mouth of child mysteriously buried alone in a cave about 200 years ago … the skull of a bird. What strange practice could this be?
“This burial is a big surprise for us. This practice is not known among the ethnologists we have asked for opinions. It remains a mystery why the child was buried in a cave in this way, not in a cemetery in a nearby village.”
Science in Poland reports that Dr. Małgorzata Kot from the Institute of Archaeology at the University of Warsaw found the strange skull-in-a-skull not in a cave but in a box filled with bones and artifacts discovered decades ago a cave in the Kraków-Częstochowa Upland, also known as the Polish Jurassic Highland for its Jurassic era limestone formations. When opening “another dusty box from an old research project” of a Prof. Waldemar Chmielewski, who discovered the artifacts in Tunel Wielki Cave, Dr. Kot found the remains of an undernourished child. Radiocarbon dating puts its burial in the late 18th or early 19th century. Nothing explains the who or why a chaffinch (a common reddish finch) skull was placed in its mouth.
The mystery may not be solved any time soon because the skulls – the child’s, the bird’s and that of another bird found next to the child’s cheek – were not in the box. Chmielewski took photographs of them, which were in the box, and then sent the skulls to “anthropologists in Wrocław right after the excavations were completed 50 years ago” and Kot says the bird skulls are still there but the child’s skull is missing.
“We returned to those skulls, but new analysis did not show anything that could at least explain why the chaffinch heads accompanied the child. For example, there are no traces of cuts on the skulls. We only know that these were the remains of adult birds.”
Why was the bird skull in the child’s mouth? While some people like to release doves at funerals, birds are traditionally not a good sign at them because they’re seen as harbingers of death. Why was the child buried alone in the cave? Was that linked to the skull … possibly a sign of a mysterious affliction? The fact that this was a recent (archeologically-speaking) death eliminates some of the plague-related practices (like the rock in the mouth) that ultimately became part of the mythology of vampires and zombies.
Unfortunately, the answer to the skull-in-a-skull may never be solved. The limestone has been mined and the sediments at the bottoms of the caves removed for fertilizer with complete disregard for any artifacts they may have contained which could explain what happened.
Once again, the pursuit of profits destroys the preservation of history. Perhaps our banks and wallets will be all that’s left of us for future archeologists to study about our own practices.