Archaeologists digging near York have found evidence of very Gothic funerary practices.
Simon Mays, skeletal biologist at Historic England, said: “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. If we are right, then this is the first good archaeological evidence we have for this practice.”
Let's back up. Here's context, some ongoing research into human remains:
When the bones were found in the 1960s the archaeologists thought they were probably older than the village, and belonged to early Romano-British settlers whose remains were disturbed and reburied by the villagers. The truth has proved to be more sinister...
The archaeologists who studied a collection of human bones – including the remains of adults, teenagers and children excavated more than half a century ago, and dated back to the period between the 11th and 14th century – rejected gruesome possibilities including cannibalism in times of famine, or the massacre of outsiders. The cut marks were in the wrong place for butchery, and isotope analysis of the teeth showed that the people came from the same area as the villagers of Wharram Percy in North Yorkshire – a once flourishing village which had been completely deserted by the early 16th century.
And now the new idea:
The archaeologists studied 137 pieces of broken human bones, found in the pits of the village. Their conclusion, published on Monday in the Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports, is that the most plausible explanation for the burn marks and cuts found on the skulls and upper body bones was deliberate mutilation after death. The scientists believe the intention was to keep the dead from walking and spreading disease or attacking the living.
Medieval sources offer various remedies for dealing with the restless dead, believed to be individuals who were evil or cursed in life and still bore a grudge against the living in death. Solutions included digging up and decapitating or burning the skeletons. The condition of the Wharram Percy bones suggests that the bodies were decapitated quite soon after death, when the bones were still soft, and burned.