Aim For The Head: Archaeologists Find Real-Life 'The Walking Dead' In Medieval England

by Tom Chapman 2 years ago in tv review

The Walking Dead is very much alive and among us — well, at least it was in Medieval England.

Aim For The Head: Archaeologists Find Real-Life 'The Walking Dead' In Medieval England

No, believe me, this is not some delayed April Fool's joke, #TheWalkingDead is very much alive and among us — well, at least it was in Medieval England. While the #zombie apocalypse may seem like some far-off biohazard from a tech-savvy #ResidentEvil future, has our fear of brain-munching monsters actually been around for centuries? Sorry, George. A Romero, it looks like those Medieval peasants beat you to it!

A new discovery in the lush greenery of Yorkshire, England, has us reaching for the chainsaw and bolting the front door. Experts say that it is the first evidence of practices to stop "corpses rising from their graves, spreading disease and assaulting the living," which begs the question, did the dead already walk the Earth long before #RobertKirkman penned his #comicbook?

It's The Pits

'The Walking Dead' [Credit: AMC]

The mutilated and charred remains of at least 10 men, women, and children were found in a pit just outside the deserted town of Wharram Percy. Most worrying though, the knife marks (mainly to the skull) had occurred after death, so what were the cautious villagers really afraid of?

Simon Mays, a human skeletal biologist, 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.It shows us a dark side of medieval beliefs and provides a graphic reminder of how different the medieval view of the world was from our own."

A deeper excavation of the pit places the bodies somewhere between the 11th and 13th centuries but indicates that they didn't all die at the same time. Instead of some mass burial or plague sickness, it looks like the skull-bashing was part of an ongoing ritual. Also, cannibalism has been ruled due to the knife marks not being around major muscle groups, suggesting that the villagers weren't trying to chow down on an arm or a leg. We already know that the Hilltop community doesn't (usually) bury the dead on #AMC's show, so I wonder where they got the idea from?

Many medieval books mention "revenants," a.k.a. the returned, which was a popular fear that the recently deceased would rise from the dead. In fact, Geoffrey of Burton’s 12th century Miracles of St. Modwenna tells the story of two men who died in a village not too far from Wharram Percy. The villagers were shocked to see the two men rise from their graves with their coffins on their backs, coupled with a spate of mysterious deaths in the area. The deaths continued night after night, until the worried villagers dug up the bodies, tore out and burned their hearts, then chopped off their heads and place them between their legs — and you thought a katana to the skull was bad enough!

Dead And Buried

'The Walking Dead' [Credit: AMC]

But is it all ghost stories and a lack of school education on how to deal with a zombie apocalypse? Cambridge historian Carl Watkins argues that the trend of "the walking dead" boomed around the 12th and 13th centuries after the Norman Conquest and a growing belief in penance and purgatory.

William of Newburgh's Historia Rerum Anglicarum was written between 1196 and 1198, telling the tale of man whose corpse rose every night to wreak havoc and climb into bed with his wife. While the stench alone would be enough to put you off love-making, she was visibly concerned and turned to the local bishop. The attacks stopped when Bishop Hugh of Lincoln pinned a letter of absolution to the man's chest and freed him from purgatory. Don't expect The Walking Dead to get so religious, but if you see #AndrewLincoln sticking a bishop title in front of his surname and pinning notes to walker chests in Season 8, you know where he got the idea.

Even if it was just a ghost story, it shows that a belief in zombies has been a long-established tradition and not just the thoughts of doomsday preppers or Bruce Campbell in The Evil Dead. Stabbing the dead in the head and burning their corpses sounds like it has been plucked straight from the pages of Kirkman's comics, but who knows, maybe a UK remake of The Walking Dead should head to the Wharram Percy Safe Zone?

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