Roman Tunisia settlement archaeology is ‘enigma’ says expert
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Researchers digging at excavation sites around the world often happen upon sinister, gruesome and shocking discoveries. Those working in South America have dug up mass burial graves; those in the UK have found kings beneath carparks; and those in Siberia have even found a mummified wooly mammoth. Archaeologists added another creepy find to their repertoire when digging at an ancient Roman site in Italy which they believe was used to bury those who were thought to hold supernatural powers.
What they uncovered was shocking: the skeletal remains of a child with a stone placed purposefully in its mouth.
According to the researchers, the stone was intentionally inserted as part of a funeral ritual designed to stop disease and the body from rising after being buried.
The team, from the University of Arizona and Stanford University, alongside researchers from Italy, discovered the so-called “vampire burial” in 2018.
Nothing similar has been found since.
Archaeology: The ‘vampire child’ was found in a mass child burial site in Italy (Image: David Pickel/Stanford)
Teverina: La Necropoli dei Bambini is located to the left of the Tiber river (Image: GETTY)
Professor David Soren, who has been excavating the site in Teverina since 1987, described it as “extremely eerie and weird”.
He continued: “I’ve never seen anything like it.
“Locally, they’re calling it the ‘Vampire of Lugnano’.”
It was unearthed at La Necropoli dei Bambini, or the Cemetery of Children, in a burial site which dates back to a malaria outbreak in 400 AD which killed many vulnerable babies and small children in the area.
Roman burial grounds: Tombs from the Romans period are scattered around Italy, here at Vesuvius (Image: GETTY)
Previously, archaeologists believed the cemetery was exclusively for infants and unborn foetuses.
The eldest body found from more than 50 burials before Prof Soren’s dig was a three-year-old girl.
However, the discovery of the ten-year-old could yet prove that more, older children were also buried there.
Researchers were able to pinpoint the child’s age through analysis of its dental development, but couldn’t determine its sex.
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Vampire burial: The child was found with a stone placed in its mouth (Image: David Pickel/Stanford)
Roman Empire: Researchers were able to estimate the child’s age from its teeth (Image: David Pickel/Stanford)
Jordan Wilson, a bioarchaeologist, said: “There are still sections of the cemetery that we haven’t excavated yet, so we don’t know if we’ll find other older kids.”
Excavation director David Pickel said: “Given the age of this child and its unique deposition, with the stone placed within his or her mouth, it represents, at the moment, an anomaly within an already abnormal cemetery.
“This just further highlights how unique the infant – or now, rather, child – cemetery at Lugnano is.”
Archaeological discoveries: Some of the most groundbreaking archaeological discoveries on record (Image: Express Newspapers)
Previous excavations at La Necropoli dei Bambini have revealed the bones of infants and toddlers alongside objects associated with witchcraft and magic.
These included raven talons, toad bones, bronze cauldrons filled with ash and the remains of puppies that appear to have been sacrificed.
The body of the three-year-old girl previously found had stones weighing down her hands and feet.
Syria: Roman burial grounds aren’t limited to Italy, with tombs found also found in the Middle East (Image: GETTY)
This was a ritual practice used by many different cultures and peoples throughout history to prevent the dead from rising from their graves.
Professor Soren added: “We know that the Romans were very much concerned with this and would even go to the extent of employing witchcraft to keep the evil – whatever is contaminating the body – from coming out.
“It’s a very human thing to have complicated feelings about the dead and wonder if that’s really the end.”