History

Vampire Skeleton Rediscovered in Britain

An skeleton unearthed in the U.K. reveals a man buried with metal spikes through the shoulders, heart and ankles.

Details of one of the few "vampire" burials in Britain have emerged as a new archaeological report details the long forgotten discovery of a skeleton found buried with metal spikes through shoulders, heart area and ankles.

Dating from 550-700 A.D., the skeleton was unearthed in 1959 in the minster town of Southwell, Nottinghamshire, during excavations in preparation for a new school. The dig also turned up Roman remains.

Archaeologist Charles Daniels immediately recognized the skeletal remains as being out of the ordinary, but no further investigation was carried out at that time.

"Daniels did jokingly comment he had 'checked the eye teeth,' clearly associating the skeleton with the vampire being," Matthew Beresford, of Southwell Archaeology told Discovery News.

"However, the skeleton had largely been forgotten about since then," Beresford said.

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The author of a detailed report on the Southwell skeleton, as well as other two books on the subject of the "vampire" being, Beresford looked at the wider context for the burial, including excavations that occurred in the past decades near the "deviant" burial.

He learned 225 skeletons were discovered in the area in 1971.

"We can only ponder as to whether any of those skeletons had a similar practice bestowed upon them," he said.

Only a handful of deviant burials have been recognized in the UK. "Dangerous dead" such as vampires were interred with particular rituals to prevent them rising from their graves and attacking the living.

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"Throughout the Anglo-Saxon period the 'punishment' of being buried in water-logged ground, face down, decapitated, staked or otherwise was reserved for thieves, murderers or traitors," Beresford wrote.

The treatment was later extended to all those who did not conform to society's rules.

"These were adulterers, disrupters of the peace, the unpious or oath-breaker. Which of these the Southwell skeleton was we will never know," Beresford said.

The archaeologist believes the remains of the skeleton may still be buried on the site where they originally lay as Daniels admitted he was unable to retrieve the body completely from the ground.

"There is a final twist in the tale of the Southwell vampire. It seems he was not the last person to be buried in the town who the locals feared might return to plague the living," Beresford wrote on his website.

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Historical accounts report that in 1822 one Henry Standley was found guilty of the murder of a hawker named John Dale. Arrested, Standley was found then dead in his cell.

"He had committed suicide by hanging," Beresford said.

A local newspaper report dated Feb. 15, 1822 reveals that Standley was buried near the crossroads and a stake was driven through his body, suggesting that fear for the dead rising from the grave did exist in British society in the 1820s.

"Burial at crossroads is quite common for suspected vampires, the theory being if they were to reanimate they would not know the way back to the village. And within folklore, suicides are at great risk of becoming vampires in death," Beresford said Photo: The Southwell deviant burial (left) as it was found in 1959 alongside further disarticulated human remains. Credit: Charles Daniels. Copyright University of Nottingham Archaeology Museum.