What's particularly disturbing about the find is that the child's jaw was forced open after death and a rock was pushed in, purposefully, researchers said. University of Arizona professor and archaeologist David Soren, who was involved in the research, said this burial ritual was to ensure that the child didn't rise from the dead and spread malaria.
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"I've never seen anything like it. It's extremely eerie and weird," Soren said in a statement. "Locally, they're calling it the 'Vampire of Lugnano.'"
The child's sex is unknown. Age was determined based on the child's teeth.
Other children at the burial site were found alongside raven talons, toad bones and bronze cauldrons, researchers say.
Bioarcheologist Jordan Wilson, a University of Arizona doctoral student who analyzed the skeletal remains in Italy, said the practice of burying someone like this (known as a vampire burial), with a rock in the mouth of a body held to the ground is unusual, but was more common in Roman culture.
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In Venice, an older woman now known as the "Vampire of Venice" from the 16th-century was found with a brick in her mouth in a 2009 discovery, and in Northamptonshire, England, a man from the third or fourth century was found buried facedown with his tongue replaced with a stone, according to an University of Arizona release.