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Archaeologists Discover Ancient Grave Built to Contain Zombies

Samantha Franco
Photo Credit: Heiko Rebsch / picture alliance / Getty Images
Photo Credit: Heiko Rebsch / picture alliance / Getty Images

The fear of zombies has been felt for millennia. While the idea of the living dead may have looked different in the past compared to the idea we have today, the main point has remained constant: humans fear the dead rising up. Now, archaeologists have discovered a grave that showcases just how these ancient people tried to deal with this fear.

A “zombie” grave was discovered

A man laying beside buried bones and a stone slab.
Excavation manager Uwe Moos works on the remarkable grave that was discovered. (Photo Credit: Heiko Rebsch / picture alliance / Getty Images)

The State Office for Heritage Management and Archaeology of Saxony-Anhalt revealed on Facebook that they made an incredible discovery. During a rescue excavation in Oppin, Germany, that was held prior to planned construction work for an energy infrastructure project, archaeologists unearthed a grave. This wasn’t just any grave, though. It appears to be a “revenant” grave, also known as a “zombie” grave.

Revenant graves have been discovered in the past and showcase that people have long feared the deceased coming back to life. These graves were special in that specific efforts would be employed to ensure that the dead stay dead. While most revenant graves have been found across Europe dating to the Middle Ages, there have been a handful found to date back to prehistoric times.

It is believed to date to the Bell Beaker culture period

A display in a museum for the Bell Beaker culture.
Vessels of Bell Beaker culture on display at the National Archaeological Museum in Madrid, Spain. (Photo Credit: Cristina Arias / Cover / Getty Images)

Although the grave still hasn’t been conclusively dated, researchers believe it dates to the Bell Beaker culture period. This culture was present around the Neolithic period and the start of the Early Bronze Age, and the grave having been found near other cultural discoveries suggests it dates to that same time frame. Currently, there is little recorded about the Bell Beaker culture, but this find has the potential to provide more information as to the superstitions of the people of that period.

“We know that already in the Stone Age people were afraid of revenants,” explained Susanne Friederich, an archaeologist with the state office and project manager for the excavations. “Back then, people believed that dead people sometimes tried to free themselves from their graves. Sometimes, the dead were laid on their stomachs. If the dead lies on his stomach, he burrows deeper and deeper instead of reaching the surface.”

Keeping the “zombie” down

A man laying beside buried bones and a stone slab.
A large stone was placed over the skeleton’s legs – probably intended to prevent the buried person from becoming a revenant. (Photo Credit: Heiko Rebsch / picture alliance / Getty Images)

One of the dead giveaways (pun intended) that this grave was a revenant grave was the presence of an oversized stone on the remains of the deceased. The grave belonged to a middle-aged man who died between the ages of 40 and 60, was buried some 4,200 years ago, and was laid in a crouched position on his side. Strikingly, the stone was placed atop his legs, pinning him in place.

The stone was over three feet long and around a foot and a half wide, and was four inches thick, meaning this was a pretty hefty weight to place on the body. The statement from the state office explained that “It must be assumed that the stone was placed there for a reason. Possibly to hold the dead in the grave and prevent it from coming back.”

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Some revenant graves also employed the use of lances plunged through the torso to secure the body in place. However, the massive stone seemed to satisfy the grave maker, as no lance was found at this particular site.

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Samantha Franco

Samantha Franco is a Freelance Content Writer who received her Bachelor of Arts degree in history from the University of Guelph, and her Master of Arts degree in history from the University of Western Ontario. Her research focused on Victorian, medical, and epidemiological history with a focus on childhood diseases. Stepping away from her academic career, Samantha previously worked as a Heritage Researcher and now writes content for multiple sites covering an array of historical topics.

In her spare time, Samantha enjoys reading, knitting, and hanging out with her dog, Chowder!