'Vampire' Skeleton Found Pinned to Ground with Sickle Around Neck

The skeleton of a woman buried with a thin metal sickle around her neck, possibly to stop her returning from the dead, has been found.

The research team from the Archaeology Institute of Nicolaus Copernicus University expedition, led by professor Dariusz Poliński, discovered the skeleton in a 17th-century graveyard in the Polish village of Pień. An iron sickle was placed around the woman's neck, and there was a padlock around her big toe.

According to Poliński, the strange burial was performed because the villagers may have thought that the woman was undead.

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Pictures of the woman's skeleton taken by archaeologist Łukasz Czyżewski. The iron sickle around her neck may have been placed there to prevent her rising from the dead. Łukasz Czyżewski/Nicholas Copernicus University

"The sickle was not laid flat but placed on the neck in such a way that if the deceased had tried to get up most likely the head would have been cut off or injured," Poliński told the MailOnline.

The padlocked big toe also possibly symbolized "the closing of a stage and the impossibility of returning," Poliński said.

Vampires and other supernatural creatures have plagued the imaginations of people across Europe for centuries. According to the Scientific American, certain diseases resulting in extreme psychological and behavioral changes like schizophrenia, rabies, and tuberculosis, sparked fears in other villagers that the sick person may be dangerous, and when they died, may return. When they were buried, they were often restrained or damaged in some way to prevent them from rising from the grave.

"Ways to protect against the return of the dead include cutting off the head or legs, placing the deceased face down to bite into the ground, burning them, and smashing them with a stone," Poliński said.

However, the young woman found in Pień was treated with respect in comparison to women at the time who were accused of having supernatural powers.

"She was neither ritually murdered nor was she one of the convicted in a witchcraft trial, Poliński told Newsweek. "Those individuals were treated in a different way and, usually, they were thrown into provisional graves, eg. at the gallows."

One hypothesis that Poliński and his team have about the woman is that the locals may have feared her revenge.

"It is possible that in her lifetime the woman experienced a tragedy and was harmed. On the other hand, her appearance or behavior might have provoked the contemporary residents to be afraid of her, but this may only be proved by more research on the skeleton," he said.

"The 17th century was an era when people believed in vampires and other creatures. In the case of this enigmatical grave in Pień there are more questions than answers. More studies, however, may help to identify the cause of this young woman's death."

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The padlock placed on the skeleton's big toe is thought to symbolize “the closing of a stage and the impossibility of returning." Łukasz Czyżewski/Nicholas Copernicus University

Other skeletons buried in a similar way have previously been found in Poland. In 2015, archaeologists discovered five skeletons with sickles around their necks in a cemetery in Drawsko, around 150 miles away from Pień.

In four of these skeletons, the sickles were placed on the throats of the bodies, and up against the pelvis of a fifth.

"Burials that are marked by the inclusion of unusual items, or where the bodies have been placed in peculiar positions—particularly where they have been mutilated or dismembered—are often viewed as evidence for 'anti-vampiric' practices or simply as the graves of 'vampires,'" said the authors of a 2015 paper published in the journal Antiquity.