Early Medieval Irish Zombies?

A British documentary [1] on Channel 5 a week or so ago, caused this past weekend’s online headlines to blare:

Revealed, Ireland’s real-life zombie scare: Eighth century skeletons buried with stones in mouths

The article goes on, “A number of 8th century human skeletons have been found with large stones stuck in their mouths – something researchers believe locals did to stop the dead from returning to walk the Earth as zombies.” (DailyMailOnline)

Did Zombies Roam Medieval Ireland? Sleep on it!

The piece goes on to explain, “The skeletons, which were featured in a British documentary last week, emerged during a series of digs carried out between 2005 and 2009 at Kilteasheen, near Loch Key in Ireland, by a team of archaeologists led by Chris Read from the Institute of Technology in Sligo, Ireland and Thomas Finan from the University of St. Louis.” (MSNBC.com)

Did Zombies Roam Medieval Ireland?

The article begins, “Two early medieval skeletons were unearthed recently in Ireland with large stones wedged into their mouths — evidence, archaeologists say, that it was feared the individuals would rise from their graves like zombies.” (Discovery.com)

The people of 8th century Ireland were afraid of zombies, too! (i09.com)

Zombie Scare in 8th Century Ireland Revealed? (TheBlaze.com)

(Skeleton with large stone in its mouth)

The “deviant burials” were comprised of two men who were buried there at different times in the 700s.

One of the men was between 40 and 60 years old, and the other was a young adult, probably between 20 and 30 years old. The two men were laid side by side and each had a baseball-size rock shoved in his mouth.

“One of them was lying with his head looking straight up. A large black stone had been deliberately thrust into his mouth,” Chris Read, head of Applied Archaeology at IT Sligo, said.

“The other had his head turned to the side and had an even larger stone wedged quite violently into his mouth so that his jaws were almost dislocated,” he added.

“[The mouth] was viewed as the main portal for the soul to leave the body upon death,” explains Read. “Sometimes, the soul could come back to the body and re-animate it or else an evil spirit could enter the body through the mouth and bring it back to life.”

(Little Old Venetian Vampyre Lady?)

A similar find was discovered on the Venetian island of Lazzaretto Nuovo a few years ago… the skull of an old woman with a brick in her mouth. In that case, however, the skull was found in a mass grave of 16th century plague victims. It is suspected that the gravediggers, fearing she was a vampyre, shoved the brick in her mouth to prevent her from chewing her way through the shroud. How this would prevent the Nosferatu Nonna from clawing her way out is another story. Maybe the shrouds were made of heavy canvas and could not be easily torn without sharp fangs. Still… I have a family full of little old Italian ladies. Trust me, they are tough and resourceful!

Seriously cool stuff, in any event.

(Politically incorrect Irish Zombie exploitation tshirt)

However… (here I go, throwing a wrench in the Irish Zombie Gearworks)…

The idea of zombies as we known them simply did not exist in Ireland or even Europe in the 8th century. Zombies are originally a west African and, later, Afro-Caribbean concept, and it is only in 1968 with George A. Romero’s seminal classic Night of the Living Dead do we see the creation of the ‘apocalyptic’ or ‘viral’ zombie. As for vampyres, while they were certainly a part of European (especially Eastern European) culture by the late medieval/early renaissance period, they simply don’t figure in the 8th century popular imagination of Western Europe and the British Isles.

Still… Irish zombies. You gotta love it!

Faith an’ begorra, me lassie child! ‘Tis a wee fair sight fer Irish eyes!

(I’ve never understood how the English thought the Irish spoke this way!)


[1] It’s interesting to note that while the documentary focuses on vampyres and is in fact entitled, “Mysteries of The Vampire Skeletons: Revealed”, the newspaper media have, despite the documentary, chosen the zombie angle the vampire one. Are zombies the new vampyres? See my previous article: Zombies are the New Vampyres?


One comment on “Early Medieval Irish Zombies?

  1. bunnynoah says:

    I think those stones were more likely put in their mouths to shut them up! They probably kissed the Blarney stone once too often or were a liar or gossip. Hopefully the stones were not put in there Before they were buried!!

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