In a remote corner of Italy, archaeologists have uncovered a 1,600-year-old burial ground that is shrouded in mystery. The cemetery, located in the ruins of a Roman villa at the archaeological site of Poggio Gramignano, contains the remains of infants, children and sacrificed puppies.

What makes this site so intriguing is that some of the burials have unusual features, such as a child buried with a block in their mouth, which suggests that people were afraid that they could become “revenants” — corpses revived after death. Analysis of the burials indicates that many of the dead suffered from malaria, leading some to suggest that the child may have been seen as a vampire. However, new research indicates that this is inaccurate and that the child may have been viewed as a possible revenant.

This fear of the undead was common among both Christians and non-Christians from this period, and it appears that people were taking steps to protect their community from the supernatural. Dog sacrifices, puppies in particular, were found in the cemetery, which suggests that they were seen as tomb protectors with more potency for remedy for the community. Additionally, some of the children were buried in unusual ways, such as with stones in their mouth or over their body to weigh them down.

What makes this site even more remarkable is the level of detail that archaeologists have been able to uncover. Thanks to the meticulousness of the excavations, a detailed reconstruction of the rituals that were performed on the deceased can be made.

This cemetery is a fascinating insight into the beliefs and fears of people living in the fifth century A.D., when the Western Roman Empire was collapsing. It is a reminder of the power of superstition and the lengths that people will go to protect themselves from the unknown.