A 17th-century burial of a woman with a sickle on her neck and a triangular padlock on the toe of her left foot was discovered in the village of Pień (Dąbrowa Chełmińska commune) by archaeologists from the Nicolaus Copernicus University in Toruń.
The discovery was made on August 30 by a research team led by UMK professor dr hab. Dariusz Poliński. The expedition included anthropologist Dr Alicja Drozd-Lipińska and Dr Łukasz Czyżewski, who was responsible for measurements, documentation, and photogrammetry. The project combined scientific research with rescue work (protection of the discovered cemetery) and the popularisation of science. It involved the staff of the Institute of Archaeology at UMK and volunteers as well as residents of the village.
“The originality of this discovery is due to the surprising combination of three elements; a sickle and a padlock, which have a symbolic meaning derived from folk beliefs, and at the same time the presence of probably a headdress, made of silk, interspersed with silver or gold thread. The latter element testifies to the high social status of the buried woman,” Magdalena Zagrodzka, representing the research team, told PAP (Polish Press Agency).
As she explained, the sickle placed with its blade on the neck and the triangular padlock located on the toe of the left foot, symbolising the closure of a certain stage of life, could have protected against the return of the deceased, which was probably feared. In this context, these practices can be considered so-called anti-vampiric.
“So far, we have not encountered during our research that a sickle and a padlock were found in the same grave at the same time,” the research participant pointed out.
As Zagrodzka described, the woman was buried neatly, with her head laid on a pillow. Next to the skull were the remains of a mob cap most likely tied under the chin. The well-preserved teeth may indicate that this was a young person.
During the anthropological analysis, Dr Alicja Drozd-Lipinska will check whether the remains of the deceased bear traces of the disease. Other mysteries related to the uncovered burial will be attempted to be solved by researchers from the Institute of Archaeology at the Nicolaus Copernicus University, where the material obtained from the research was transported. They will check, among other things, whether something was put in the mouth of the deceased. Other detailed analyses will be carried out (including DNA) and perhaps a reconstruction of the appearance of the deceased’s face.
This is not the first significant discovery related to the investigated site. During work carried out between 2005 and 2009, the remains of two cemeteries were discovered – an early medieval cemetery with richly furnished chambered graves (10th / 11th century) and a 17th-century Protestant necropolis.
“Among other things, we found an unusual burial of a man with a child in a cross-like arrangement on his shins. We also discovered the burial of a child with an analogous, triangular padlock like the one found this year,” Zagrodzka said.
Further research work is planned at the cemetery in Pień, she announced. “We have been assured of our assistance by the head of the commune Dąbrowa Chełmińska, who wants to take measures to exclude the area of the site from agricultural exploitation. There is also talk of using the site in the context of popularising knowledge of early medieval and modern funerary practices,” the representative of the research team concluded.