A town in England called Wharram Percy was abandoned around 1500, and researchers from the University of Southampton and Historic England have been trying to figure out why for years. Excavations recently revealed a pit of bones, full of bodies that that appear to have been dismembered and mutilated, leading scientists to think that villagers may have left the village because they feared a zombie apocalypse.
The New York Daily News reports that the university released statement on their findings, which included knife marks on bones and cut that suggest the bodies had been decapitated.
“In medieval times, there was a folk belief that corpses could rise from their graves and roam the local area, spreading disease and violently assaulting those unlucky enough to encounter them,” the university said, “Restless corpses were usually thought to be caused by a lingering malevolent life-force in individuals who had committed evil deeds or created animosity when living.
“Medieval writers describe a number of ways of dealing with revenants, one of which was to dig up the offending corpse, decapitate and dismember it, and burn the pieces in a fire.”
As they continued to study the bones, they wondered if the villagers had practiced cannibalism, but the evidence didn’t quite add up.
“Famines were quite common in medieval times,” said the university, “So another possibility might be that the remains were of corpses that had been cannibalized by starving villagers. However, the evidence did not seem to fit. For example, in cannibalism, knife marks on bone tend to cluster around major muscle attachments or large joints, but at Wharram Percy the knife marks were not at these locations but mainly in the head and neck area.”
Human skeletal biologist Simon Mays led the research team, and says the carnage at Wharram Percy is a reminder that medieval times were nothing like what we see at Renaissance Faires. They were much bloodier. “It shows us a dark side of medieval beliefs and provides a graphic reminder of how different the medieval view of the world was from our own,” said Mays.
The researchers agreed that their analysis about the fear villagers had about the dead rising and walking amongst them explains best why people left after going through such a graphic ceremony.
“The idea that the Wharram Percy bones are the remains of corpses burnt and dismembered to stop them walking from their graves seems to fit the evidence best,” said Mays, “If we are right, then this is the first good archaeological evidence we have for this practice.”
Considering how afraid people still are of zombies now, it seems entirely possible that they were frightened enough to dismember corpses back before humans had things like electricity.