10 Strange & Bizarre Archaeological Discoveries
#10. The Bog People
In Northern Europe peat farmers discovered something terrifying. Accidentally unearthed in the bog were unusual preserved bodies that were remarkably well preserved.
The pictures are, unfortunately, exactly what they look like: murdered bodies offered up as part of some freaky bog people ritual. One corpse in particular, the “Grauballe Man,” tells the story pretty clearly: He was put to death the winter after a bad harvest, there’s evidence of stubble on his jaw (indicating he had been detained and not allowed to shave in the days before he was put to death) and his burial pit was right in the middle of a consecrated area.
Pompeii, the ancient Roman city, was buried during a volcanic eruption in 79 AD when Mount Vesuvius exploded. It was lost for nearly 1700 years and the damage done to the city was so severe that even the name of the city vanished from memory. In 1738 Herculaneum – a nearby city also lost – was discovered and then ten years later military engineer Rocque Joaquin de Alcubierre discovered Pompeii. Whilst digging in later excavations, Giuseppe Fiorelli discovered that some of the large bubbles in the volcanic mud were perfectly formed molds of the men who had died there. He injected plaster into the bubbles and gave the modern world the first look at real Ancient Roman people. Interestingly the city was full of erotic art and objects (many of which were hidden until 2000 AD) and graffiti found on a wall in Pompeii called the city “Sodom and Gomorrah” leading many Christians to believe that the city was destroyed by God in retribution for its sexual perversities.
#8. Teotihuacan Sacrifice
In 2004, a grisly discovery was made outside of modern day Mexico City. Although it has been known for years that the Aztecs performed bloody sacrificial festivals, numerous decapitated and mutilated bodies of both humans and animals shed some light on just how horrific the rituals could get.
#7. Mount Owen Moa
In 1986, an expedition was exploring the cave system of Mount Owen in New Zealand when it came across the huge claw you’re now looking at. It was so well preserved that it almost seemed like whatever it belonged to had just died recently. Upon excavation and inspection, however, it was determined to belong to an Upland Moa, a large prehistoric bird that apparently came with a nasty set of claws.
#6. The Mass Grave of the Headless Vikings
Archaeologists were digging up the side of a boring old roadway in Dorset when they unearthed a mass grave containing the headless remains of 54 Viking warriors. Researchers began to notice something unusual about the placement of the bones. The leg and arm bones, heads and torsos were all neatly arranged into their own separate piles. So what happened? The Vikings may have been sacrificed in a ritualistic manner not consistent with the surrounding culture of the time.
#5. Ancient Chemical Warfare
In 1933, archaeologist Robert du Mesnil du Buisson was conducting a dig in the area of Dura-Europos, where ancient Persians laid siege to their longtime enemies, the Romans. During the excavation, du Mesnil found several tunnels, which is pretty much par for the course in a siege situation. A little out of the ordinary, however, was the haphazard pile of 19 Roman soldiers he found in one of those tunnels, all looking as though they died while fleeing something. So what was at other end of the tunnel that could terrify and ultimately murder 19 Roman soldiers so quickly?
A single Persian soldier, found clutching desperately at his armor, forever preserved in that panicked moment. Add to the strangeness the fact that there were traces of sulfur and bitumen all along the walls, and the implication is clear: one terrified Persian who died clawing frantically at his own body, 19 Romans who died fleeing from his direction, sulfurous emanations in the walls? This indicates that the deaths were actually due to one of the earliest attempts at chemical warfare.
The story may have happened like this:
“The Romans heard the Persians working beneath the ground and steered their tunnel to intercept their enemies. The Roman tunnel was shallower than the Persian one, so the Romans planned to break in on the Persians from above. But there was no element of surprise for either side: The Persians could also hear the Romans coming.
“So the Persians set a trap. Just as the Romans broke, through, James said, they lit a fire in their own tunnel. Perhaps they had a bellows to direct the smoke, or perhaps they relied on the natural chimney effect of the shaft between the two tunnels. Either way, they threw sulfur and bitumen on the flames. One of the Persian soldiers was overcome and died, a victim of his own side’s weapon. The Romans met with the choking gas, which turned to sulfuric acid in their lungs.”
#4. The Screaming Mummies
In 1886, Gaston Maspero, then head of the Egyptian Antiquities Service, was cataloging mummies when he came across an unusually plain burial box. Unlike the kings and queens he’d been working with for most of his career, this particular box didn’t give any information as to the identity of the individual inside. Even stranger, the body was wrapped in sheepskin, which was considered unclean by ancient Egyptians. And then, as he slowly unwrapped the mummy & gazed upon the face — as if in a horror movie– he found this screaming, mummy face looking back at him!
When he finally uncovered it, Gaston also found that the corpse’s hands and feet had been bound for some unspeakable reason. Because of the strange coverings and the bound hands & feet with a seemingly tortured expression, experts theorized that the body (creatively named Unknown Man E) had been poisoned, buried alive or otherwise tortured before his untimely death.
#3. The Tomb of the Sunken Skulls
In 2009, archaeologists were excavating the bottom of a prehistoric dry lake bed in Motala, Sweden, when they stumbled upon the foundations of a mysterious stone structure sealed at the bottom of an ancient lake. They eventually unearthed the exact kind of stuff one expects from primitive mystery structures: animal bones, stone tools and, oh yeah — the 8,000-year-old skulls of 10 people, ranging in age from small children to the elderly. And then they found an 11th skull buried deep within the ancient mud of the lake bottom. Fragments of one of the other skulls were deliberately lodged inside the cranium of the 11th skull.
For reasons that are unclear to us, some ancient society probably butchered 11 people in a stone hut and then put the pieces of one dead person’s skull inside the brain space of another person.
But the horror doesn’t end there: Not only had somebody perhaps bashed one person’s skull in with another person’s skull, but, before being interred inside the tomb, several of the bodies had stakes driven through them and were then set on fire. Two of the skulls were found with the stakes still embedded.
Bulgaria archaeologists may have ‘stumbled’ upon new evidence of vampires. The evidence for this is that there was a burial of a man with an iron stake through his chest and trauma indicative of stab wounds to the heart. Since the burial dates to the 15th century, they argue that it was likely meant to prevent the individual from rising as a vampire. This brings the total number of potential vampires found in Bulgaria from this period to 100 cases. The current pattern shows that they are all men, likely wealthier individuals who would be suspected of evil in life, and were found with injuries indicative of being stabbed after death or were pinned down by metal stakes.
This isn’t the first time that an archaeologist has cried ‘vampire’, although it does represent one of the larger cases. A female skeleton recovered from Venice dating to the 16th century was found with a brick in her mouth. She was part of a larger mass grave that contained the bodies of plague victims. Stories of the time period talk of these mass burials being reopened and finding individuals within who looked fresh and were vampires. It is possible that her lack of decomposition of the body and breakdown of the shroud was thought to be a sign of vampirism and the brick in the mouth was a method to prevent her feeding on the living or deceased.
Reference: Archaeology 2012 Archaeologists Stumble Upon ‘Vampire’ Skeleton in Bulgaria. Novinite. http://www.novinite.com/view_news.php?id=139940
#1. An Italian Witch or a Vampire?
There’s another strange burial from a Medieval cemetery at Piombino in Tuscany, Italy. Two female bodies in particular interested the excavators. One was found buried with 17 dice and since women were not allowed to play dice games at the time, they interpreted her as a having been a prostitute.
The second body was far more interesting … Seven nails were placed in her mouth. Presumably this was an attempt to stop the women rising and returning from the dead. Yet in addition, in this Italian burial, the woman’s clothes were nailed to the ground by 13 nails, to further ‘hold’ her down.
Because of these highly unusual nails, the woman was identified initially as a witch. She died around AD 1300, aged 25 to 30, and was buried in the church yard amongst other citizens of Piombino who had been buried normally. Most of the other burials had a shroud and / or a simple coffin, but the ‘prostitute’ and the ‘witch’ had neither. The excavator, Prof Alfonso Forgione, of L’Aquila University, said he had never seen anything similar, and felt that the pinning down by nails was an attempt to stop her from ‘rising’ from the dead by those who buried her and who believed she had some sort of magical powers, making her a witch.
The fact that the two women were buried in the church graveyard, in consecrated ground, has been an issue, and led some to question whether a witch would be buried in this way. The Irish ‘zombies’ were certainly buried in a consecrated graveyard, as were many of the Bohemian and Moravian ‘vampires’ so I’m not sure why this should be an issue. It has however led at least one archaeologist to revise his opinion of the ‘witch’ burial and re-label her an ‘adulteress’ … seven nails through the jaw and another 13 pinning her clothes down seem to be to be over-kill for an adulteress, but then again it was a pretty serious sin in the Medieval period. Or maybe she was a vampire after all…
If you want more info, then I recommend UNC anthropologist Krista Killgrove’s blog post on the burials (here), since she links to all the Italian coverage.