Medieval villagers fought off zombies with this easy hack

Medieval times were hard. Between the bubonic plague, the Crusades, and serfdom, daily survival was a constant struggle. So this English village wasn't taking any chances on zombies.

Villagers may have burned, broken, and stabbed their deceased to keep corpses from springing back to life and roaming menacingly through the fields, a new study says.

A pit full of bones near the abandoned town of Wharram Percy suggest these bodies weren't simply buried and left to decompose. Sometime between the 11th and 13th centuries, villagers took a more proactive approach, a team of U.K. researchers wrote this week in the Journal of Archeological Science.

Belief in zombies — formally known as "revenant corpses" — was widespread in northern and western Europe in the Medieval period. It was thought that people who committed evil deeds in life took some of that ill-will with them to the grave. That malevolent force was powerful enough to "reanimate" the bodies for round two of being a jerk.

To snuff out that evil spirit once and for all, villagers would burn the bodies, break their legs, chop off their heads, cut out the hearts, and employ other unpleasant methods, according to the study.

The pit included 137 separate bones from at least 10 individuals, who ranged in age from two to four years old to under 50 years old at death. Both genders were represented.

Researchers had a second gruesome explanation for all the disfigured bones: cannibalism, prompted by starvation.

Poor harvests led to at least a dozen major famines in England during this two-century stretch of time. Wharram Percy in particular has thin, nutrient-poor soil and a harsher climate, making it a difficult place to grow crops.

Villagers may have dismembered their deceased, burned or roasted the flesh, and fractured the bones to extract marrow, the study said. Perhaps they made a tasty horrific broth?

Researchers acknowledged it's difficult to know what actually happened. They don't know when exactly the bones were deposited in the pit, which would provide a better cultural and historical context. And the amount of remains is substantially smaller than they'd expect from at least 10 individuals.

Still, beating back zombies and avoiding starvation seem like the most plausible scenarios, they said, proving once again that medieval times were no joke.

Animals that are zombies
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Animals that are zombies

Pill bugs. The unwitting little crustaceans are used by parasites as a means of upgrading their living environments. The opportunistic worms want to reside inside the digestive tract of a starling, so they take control of the bugs’ brains and lead them straight into the paths of hungry flying birds. 

(James H Robinson via Getty Images)

Cockroaches. Conjuring up sympathy for the pests can be tough, but what wasps do to some of them is truly grizzly. Venom injected into the roach paralyzes it. The conscious yet immobile creature is then dragged to the wasp’s lair, filled with eggs, and forced to carry them to maturity. Once the larvae hatch, the live cockroach serves as a food source for them. 

(Jan Stromme via Getty Images)

South American Fire Ants. The parasitic larvae that occupy these creatures, and eventually eat their brains, do so without giving any indication that their hosts have lost control. The affected ants keep working until their masters’ late developmental stages. They are then forced to find a comfortable place to nestle and wait until the pupa become flies and emerge. 

(James H Robinson via Getty Images)

Mud Crabs. The evil villain in this story is a barnacle. Once the female invader successfully gains entry into a crab, she carves out a nice living space and then invites males of her kind over for a wild mating party. During this process, crabs lose their own reproductive abilities, as well as their will to be anything other than a home to barnacles. ​

(Peter Parks/AFP/Getty Images)

Spiders.  Instead of building their future babies a home, wasps manipulate spiders into doing it. The wasp lays an egg on one. Once able, the larva takes over the spider’s mind, commanding that a secure web be built so it can continue to grow in peace. 

(Getty Images) 

Wood frogs. The North American dwellers have perfected the art of freezing themselves to the brink of death. Eventually they thaw out and continue living. They don’t get just a little frosty, either. A fully chilled one is solid enough to make a clinking noise when dropped. 

(James Gerholdt via Getty Images)

Killifish. After being born in a bird, passed to a snail, and maturing a bit, parasites move along to this swimmer to carry on with the process of growing up. When they’re ready, they compel the fish into dangerous open waters where they’re easily caught and eaten by birds, and the cycle begins again. 

(wiljoj via Getty Images)

Crickets. The hopping insects are prone to getting STDs of the worst kind imaginable. Once infected with the virus, their desire to copulate increases, resulting in the quick spread of the condition throughout the cricket community. Further, the contagion renders both genders sterile, leaving the crickets to continue mating until they die out. 

(Getty Images)

As if bees aren’t facing enough modern survival problems, they’re also under the constant threat of being consumed from the inside out by grubs. The grubs’ fly parents implant them in worker bees as eggs. Once hatched, the young feed on the host, possibly pushing the bee to flee the hive and die. 

(Getty Images/Flickr RF)

Caterpillars. Once again, wasps’ hands-off approach to childrearing results in devastating consequences for others. Baby caterpillars are pumped full of wasp eggs, and both parasite and host grow bigger together. After the intruders vacate, the caterpillar is left with an odd sense of loyalty to them, providing both protection and defense.

(Mark Johnson)


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