Odd burial method showcases the medieval treatment of a ‘witch’ in her afterlife

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An archaeological excavation in Northern Italy, led by Vatican’s Pontifical Institute of Christian Archaeology, has shed some new light into how people and then-society viewed the baleful nature of suspected witches even after their death. The historians found the remains of a 13-year old girl, and the odd part pertains to the downward manner in which she was buried. The forensic studying of her bone suggests that the girl was most probably shunned by her community in spite of her early teen years. And more than that, she was also viewed as a potentially dangerous entity even in her death.

The skeleton specimen was found inside the complex of San Calocero in Albenga, a site which is known for its now-abandoned 6th century AD church. Even carbon dating of the bone remains seem to suggest that the skeleton is from the period of late Antiquity (i.e., early Middle Ages). As for the downward burial method, this is what anthropologist Elena Dellù had to say (to Discovery News) –

In particular, the prone burial was linked to the belief that the soul left the body through the mouth. Burying the dead face-down was a way to prevent the impure soul threatening the living.

Historical evidences have even showed horrific rituals in which victims were buried alive in a downward fashion. However, in the case of the San Calocero ‘witch’, this was not the case – as is evident from her relaxed posture with hands placed on her pelvic region. But the experts have also found signs of porotic hyperostosis on the girl’s skull – which might have been the result of a severe case of anaemia (which relates to reduced hemoglobin in the blood).

In that regard, the anaemia might have played an unfortunate role in convincing the ignorant town-folk to brand the girl as a witch. Historians suspect the physicality of the teenager with her less-than 5-ft height and skin pallor (along with potential hematomas) did add fuel to the superstitious verdict.

And, at the end of all the drama, the burial specimen has left a suspenseful legacy of its own. This pertains to her burial directly in front of the church, which is usually reserved for the privileged people of the settlement. The action does seem antithetical, considering her dishonorable status as a witch.

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Top Image Credit: Stefano Roascio

Source: Discovery News

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