How to deal with The Walking Dead in the Middle Ages

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The deserted village of Wharram Percy. Credit: Historic England

New evidence unearthed in England has revealed that medieval villagers in the county of Yorkshire were genuinely terrified of the dead coming back to life. So much so that they mutilated their bones, chopped up bodies and burned them. The University of Southampton and Historic England have just released their findings and it makes gruesome reading.

The bones were found in Wharram Percy, north Yorkshire. They were covered in knife marks and very obvious attempts to break up the skeletal remains. Heads were cut off and thigh bones snapped before being thrown into a bonfire. The bodies were of people aged between four years old and fifty.

From the 11th century onwards, there are writings on so-called ‘revenants’ who would come back from the grave – often wicked people who could not rest at ease after death. Possibly brought back to life by the devil himself, they were believed to be capable of attacking the living.

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The archaeologists toyed with the possibility that the bodies may have been cannibalised at a time of famine. But the knife marks didn’t suggest de-fleshing and were concentrated in areas like the head and neck. This horrific practice seems to have endured from the 11th to the 14th century.

Needless to say this covers the period of our very own Knights Templar.

Of course we are still obsessed with the subject of zombies – witness the success of The Walking Dead. I’ve also just discovered a Twitter site called Medieval Death Bot where real stories of curious deaths in the Middle Ages are tweeted every day.



DMV – deserted medieval villages

England has about three thousand villages that were deserted throughout history for one reason or another – plague or famine might drive people out or the enclosing of land by the gentry and even the monks.  They are often referred to as DMVs – deserted medieval villages.

Cistercian monks – who were very industrious and closely linked to the Templars through the Cistercian abbot Bernard of Clairvaux – were pretty ruthless with their tenants.  These men of God thought nothing of booting serfs out of their villages if it suited them.  So these monks created quite a few DMVs.

Little Barford in Bedforshire is one such village that you just wouldn’t know was there but for some grassy bumps and lumps.   In Stapleford Park in Leicestershire, the old market cross has survived but none of the buildings and shops that once surrounded it.  Winchelsea is a medieval town that was lost to the sea during a series of very violent storms in the Middle Ages.  It was rebuilt as a major port under Edward I but then suffered when its harbour silted. up.  So having once been swallowed up by the sea, it was this time destroyed by the sea moving away!

This is one DMV that has been extensively excavated though I’m not to blame for the soundtrack – very odd music choice!  But turn the volume down and watch the pictures.