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Archaeological evidence shows living dead fear real in mediaeval England

Xinhua | Updated: 2017-04-18 16:25

LONDON - It was a time when people in mediaeval England thought dead people would rise from their graves, spreading disease and attack the living, but it has been proved real with the discovery of new archaeological evidence.

The evidence, including human bones, gathered from a deserted village in North Yorkshire, have enabled experts to unveil the reasons of why people in the 12th century decapitated, dismembered and burnt corpses before burial. It was because of their fear of the living dead.

The bones suggests that corpses were burnt and mutilated. Researchers believe this was carried out by villagers who thought it would stop the corpses arising from their graves and menacing the living.

Their work in the one time village of Wharram Percy has thrown light on efforts villagers made to resist the living dead.

Historic England, a public body that manages the site, said the findings are believed to be the first good archaeological evidence of the practice of people taking steps to protect themselves from the dead in mediaeval times.

A team from Historic England and the University of Southampton studied the remains and found that many of the bones also showed knife-marks suggesting that the bodies had been decapitated and dismembered. There was also evidence for burning of body parts and deliberate breaking of some bones after death.

A spokesman for Historic England said: "In Mediaeval times there was a folk-belief that sometimes corpses could arise from their graves and roam the local area, spreading disease and violently assaulting those unlucky enough to encounter them."

When talking about the bones excavated from Wharram Percy, Simon Mays, Human Skeletal Biologist at Historic England, said: "It shows us a dark side of mediaeval beliefs and provides a graphic reminder of how different the mediaeval view of the world was from our own."

The new evidence has discounted one theory that the remains of humans were cannibalized and eaten by starving villagers.

The 137 bones found at Wharram Percy came from at least 10 people and date from the 11th to 14th centuries.

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