The Man With No Tongue
By M.P. Pellicer (Stranger Than Fiction Stories)
In 1991, near the village of Stanwick in England, an excavation unearthed burials dating back to the Roman occupation of Britain approximately 1,500 years ago.
One of the most mysterious finds the archaeologists made was a man whose tongue was cut out and a flat rock was placed inside his mouth. The reason for the mutilation is open to interpretation.
He died around 500 A.D., but it was not until 2017, that an in-depth study of the bones was made.
He was in his 30s, and when alive he had an oral infection that spread to other parts of his body. As a result new bone growth was created in his mouth and other parts of his skull. The cutting out of his tongue could have caused this infection.
Other burials dated between the 3rd and 7th centuries A.D. from other parts of Britain, found other unusual substitutions for missing body parts. Some skeletons missing a head, probably due to decapitation, had a rock or pot placed in its place. One missing a foot, had a pot placed as a substitute.
The Stanwick site was excavated from 1984 through 1992. Evidence of human occupation was found starting during the early Iron Age. From the 1st to 3rd century A.D. it prospered as a Romano-British village. A large villa was completed in the 4th century A.D. which remained in use even after the village had been abandoned. Up to the 6th century A.D. bodies were buried along the outer walls of the villa.
Simon Mays, a human skeletal biologist with Historic England said:
The researchers theorize that the flat rock in the skeleton's mouth may have been, "a symbolic replacement for [a] tongue that was amputated in this individual during the lifetime of this man".
Photographs taken in 1991, when it was unearthed show that the skeleton was found face-down with his right arm sticking out at a strange angle, indicating he might have been tied up when he died.
Face-down burial was a practice believed to be a deliberate act of disrespect for the dead person, or shunning an individual who was perceived to be a danger to the community. He could have been a criminal who was punished with tongue amputation.
As to the reason why his tongue would be cut out remains unknown. This was the time when the Romans controlled Britain, and no reference has been found in ancient texts where they used this method as a type of punishment.
The team looked at modern medical knowledge, and its found that people who experience epileptic fits, or Parkinson's disease or similar neurological disease often bit their own tongue or lips. But there is no case where someone has total bit off their tongue. Persons suffering a psychotic episode have bit off their tongue.
A person who worked on site for four years noted that none of the graves showed any indication of being Christian burials.
In September, 2022, a 17th century Polish graveyard yielded the skeletal remains of a young woman buried with a sickle across her neck. This might have been done to prevent her from rising from the grave.
The sickle was placed on the neck, so that if the dead woman tried to get up the head would have been severed.
What was left of a silk cap indicated she was from a higher social status. A triangular padlock was around the big toe of her left foot, another indicator that perhaps those who buried her feared she might be a vampire.
This practice of "vampire" burials in Christian Europe date from the 14th to the 17th century. The fear of vampires were usually based on the death of many people at once, either from a disease or mass poisoning. Claiming first the family, next the neighbors and then the village, this pattern describes an illness spread by contagion.
In 16th century Venice, a woman was found buried in a mass grave filled with victims of the plague. She had a stone placed carefully in her mouth. At this time there was a fear the dead would become "Nachzehrers" that could chew through their shrouds, bite the living and infect them as well.
Vampires were also thought to strangle people during the night while they slept. This coincides with the leading cause of death in Europe in those years which was tuberculosis.
Discovery of deviant burials disclose bodies locked in their graves, nailed to the ground, stones weighing down the feet and thorns of roses on their graves. All were methods used to deter the dead from joining the living.
There have been instances were corpses were staked through the heart, beheaded and burned.
Team leader Professor Dariusz Poliński said, "Ways to protect against the return of the dead include cutting off the head or legs, placing the deceased face down to bite into the ground, burning them, and smashing them with a stone."
However the use of a sickle had a role in rituals designed to counter black magic and witchcraft.
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Stranger Than Fiction Stories by M.P. Pellicer