Mummies, vampires, draugr, and aliens?
Halloween is soon upon us. Therefore, we will venture into the world of mummies, vampires, Camazotz, and draugr from an archaeological perspective. So we will look at how mummies became a medicine in Europe, the Book of the Dead, and the afterlife of Ancient Egypt. Then we will talk about the bat creature Camazotz, usually depicted with a knife and a human head in his hand. Lastly, we will discuss the draugr from Viking mythology. Was the draugr a ghost, undead, or something else, and what did the Vikings do to protect themselves from these creatures?
Are there any archeological records of these beings, and what can we say about them?
In Digging up Ancient Aliens, our host Fredrik uses his background in archaeology to discover what is genuine, fake, and somewhere in between in popular media, such as Ancient Aliens, Ancient Apocalypse, and many other places.
In this episode:
Medicinal cannibalism and spelling errors 2:26
Book of the Dead 8:09
Elongated skulls in Ancient Egypt? 16:27
Afterlife in Ancient Egypt 20:51
Sources, resources and further reading suggestions
Hi, hello, and välkommen to Digging Up Ancient Aliens. This is the podcast where we examine strange claims about alternative history and ancient aliens in popular media. Do their claims hold water to an archeologist, or are there better explanations out there?
We are now on episode 47, and I am Fredrik, your guide into the world of pseudo-archaeology. It is Halloween season, meaning it’s time for a spooktacular. In honor of this, I’ve watched episode 14 from season 3, called “Aliens and the Undead.” So, in this episode, we will look closer at medical cannibalism, mummies, and the Book of the Dead. That’s not all, but also vampires and if Camazotz and Draugr could be alien vampires. While dealing with what is often described as monsters in our popular culture, this episode will not be scary. I will, however, deal with the macabre, such as death, human sacrifice, and cannibalistic medicine. As usual, nothing is explicit or graphic, but I am giving you, my listener, a heads-up on this.
Remember that you can find sources, resources, and reading suggestions on our website, diggingupancientaliens.com. There, you can also find contact info if you notice any mistakes or have any suggestions. And if you like the podcast, I would appreciate it if you left one of those fancy five-star reviews I've heard so much about.
And if you want to learn how to support the show and the Archaeological Podcast Network, I will tell you more at the end of the episode.
Now that we have finished our preparations, let’s dig into the episode.
Let's start this spooktacular by talking about mummies. Something we all know well from our popular media and a topic that has fascinated people for centuries. Ideas and legends have been spread about mummies in Europe since at least the 11th century. In these earlier periods, the mummy was not seen as a person or an object but as medicine. By 1500 CE, any pharmacy worth its salt would stock Mumia, a mixture made out of powdered mummies from Egypt to cure all sorts of ailments.
Medicinal cannibalism and spelling errors
This rather strange idea originates from an unfortunate translation issue. The word mummy originates not from Ancient Egypt but most likely from the Persian word mūm, meaning wax. You see, in some of the Persian hills, bitumen is seeping naturally out of the rocks. It is a highly viscous liquid that might be more familiar to you by its modern name, asphalt. So, it's a semi-solid petroleum substance that was used in some instances in medicine to cure broken limbs and other issues. It became known as an expensive but very effective cure for especially broken limbs and other illnesses. So, mūm was commonly known in the crescent area. However, Karl Dannenfeldt noted that there is a local name in some parts of Persia, mumiya. While the Arabic word for mummified body is mūmiyā, a physician in Bagdad called Rhazes referred to mumiya as medical bitumen around 900 CE. Mumiya, as medical bitumen, was shortly after picked up by another famous physician named Ibn Sina. From there, it spread and started to enter European writings, where the translation issues soon became apparent with our 20/20 hindsight.
Latin writers such as Gerard of Cremona and Constantinius Africanus translated Mumia to refer to a substance originating from mummified bodies in Egypt. From there, the definition of mumiya was tied to mummified bodies. That they either contained the substance or were the origin of the substance. Like a game of telephone, the original meaning of black shiny asphalt from Persia became a mummified human. It did not help either that the early idea was that mummification was done with the help of asphalt.
However, the idea that consuming human remains could cure different conditions was not novel in Europe. Between 0 and about the 6th century, gladiator blood was used to cure epilepsy. Human fat was used in ointments and remedies around the 15th century. So, medical cannibalism was a rather accepted practice in Europe when mummy powder became a highly sought-after remedy.
But when did mummy become synonymous with a sort of monster? For that, we might have to thank Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and his novel Lot No. 249. Authors had incorporated mummies and Egypt in their writing for some time. Jane C Loudon published 1827 the book "The Mummy!: Or a Tale of the Twenty-Second Century," in which a reanimated Cheops experience the 22nd century. Even Edgar Allan Poe wrote a mummy story, but it's maybe a bit more satirical than scary. Doyle was the first to portray mummies as monsters, something menacing and dangerous. Quite the contrast to his other novel, The Ring of Thoth, which could almost be described as a love story between an Egyptologist and a mummy. But there is also the hunt for the elixir of life, eternal science, and a romantic idea of ancient science.
Why are we talking about mummies, other than it's time for spooktacular? For starters, putting things in context like this puts our ideas of mummies in perspective. Mummies are strange in a way since they are an odd mix of human remains and artifacts. I think it's good that we remind ourselves that these were humans with hopes and dreams and not just monsters. But also, Ancient Aliens have found a way to put a spin on the Egyptian burial costumes. Let us start with something that might surprise some: the Book of the Dead.
Book of the Dead
"To help Tutankhamun on his journey into the afterlife the walls and ceiling of his burial chamber were decorated with illustrations from the Egyptian's sacred Book of the Dead." - Narrator.
So here is the thing: this is not something that only Ancient Alien writers get wrong but quite many of us. It's pretty understandable to think about the Book of the Dead as one complete story or narrative that is the same through time. It's more correct to view the Book of the Dead as a compilation of smaller pieces of text, many of which are called spells. These spells range from very long, such as Book of the Dead spell 17; these chapters are often shortened to DB, and I'll do the same. DB 17 is one of the spells found in most mortuary texts, identifying the deceased with the creator god Nun. Compare this to the relatively short chapter DB 6 found in most mortuary texts that bring your servant dolls, Ushabti, to life.
The name itself is not even what the Egyptians called the texts. This is a later name originating from the German word totenbuch. This can mean a death register or a more scare-sounding book of the dead. The people in Egypt also referred to the documents found in tombs as kutub al-umwat. It's for sure that these terms came into use during the 19th century. The Egyptians called the texts Books of Going Forth by Day. These mortuary writings were supposed to help the deceased journey through the underworld and be reborn as an Akh, a glorified spirit. The going forth by day part refers to the Ba, one part of the human soul. If all the rites and spells were correctly done, you would have a fully functioning Ba that could move between our world and the next. That way, the Akh could gain rejuvenation and rebirth with the cosmos each day.
When we speak about the Book of the Dead, a more fitting description of these spells might be mortuary texts. Because we have seen variations in these texts throughout the old, middle, and new kingdoms. I think you might be familiar with Pyramid texts and Coffin texts. As the name suggests, the pyramid texts are mortuary texts carved into a pyramid's walls. But if you go into the pyramid of Khufu at the Giza plateau, you will quickly realize that the walls are bare. That's because the practice was started later by the pharao Unas around 2375 BCE. Unas had about 283 spells, many of which were also found in the Pepe I and Merenre I pyramids. And how I learned that these texts were introduced to the commoners during the first intermediate period when society had collapsed, and people were plundering the tombs of the kings. They then saw that the kings had spells to make them immortal, so they copied them and democratized, so to say, the afterlife.
I must admit that I liked this story, and why not? It's an exciting story of how the lower classes gained access to an afterlife not meant for them. Since then, however, more research has been done, and it seems the coffin and pyramid texts are both built on an earlier tradition. In several Pyramid texts, we see that the spells are composed to someone who is not royalty or does not refer to the king as the beneficiary of the spell. In the mortuary temples, we see lists that contain the same items as the pyramid texts. These items are, in turn, depicted in private chapels as offerings to their deceased. In the tombs of officials, we also find in their biographies carved in the tomb references of them now being Akh, a holy spirit, a term used in the pyramid texts when proceeding to the next world. These texts were also thought to have been written originally by Toth, the god of writing from whom magic and science came.
Spells were also an integral part of Egyptian society and religion. The sun god Ra, as an example, owned his continued trip with the sun disk to Toth. The horrible monster Aapep lay in wait each morning, ready to attack where the sunrise started. The gods could not kill this dreadful beast, but Toth created a spell that would make the creature's limbs lame.
Writing things down in Ancient Egypt also ensured that the rites and spells would be performed for eternity. So, if the priests were no longer there to utter the spells and perform the rituals, the spells were thought to be completed anyway. Offerings would be presented, and the Akh could rejuvenate each day even if no one was there to give it offerings. It was a failsafe, so to speak.
The coffin texts started to become a thing around the 11th dynasty and used some of the Pyramid texts as a foundation. But the spells would vary depending on time, place, and how much room there was in the coffin. It's important to note that no standardized version of these mortuary texts existed until around 600 BCE. But the practice evolved, and the spells were written on the linen wrapped around the mummy to get more room. Later, they would start to use papyrus, which most of us refer to when speaking about the Book of the Dead. So, while they didn't say something incorrect here, I felt we could benefit from learning more about the Book of the Dead. This is only a scratch on the surface, and in the show notes, you will find more resources if you would like to learn more about the topic. But let's continue to see if we can find the connection between Egypt, mummies, and aliens.
Elongated skulls in Ancient Egypt?
"Archaeologists have found that in Egypt, like Tutankhamun or his sister, who's this statue here, Meritaten, had these strange elongated heads. You have to wonder, were they trying to imitate extraterrestrials who looked like this, or perhaps they, in fact, were extraterrestrials, and this is how they naturally looked." - David Childress.
So, I want to make something clear here: Ancient Egypt did not practice Artificial Cranial Deformation. While there are instances of the practice, the oldest confirmed find of ACD in Egypt is around 600 BCE. Tutankhamun died around 1323 BCE. Research has been done on what is believed to be the Akenathens cranium and King Tut; no one has so far gone and claimed that they show signs of Artificial Cranial Deformation.
We have discussed the problematic history of the Cephalic index in the past, but if we want to discuss long and short heads, it has its uses. So, Tutankhamun has a cephalic index of 83.9. With this number, he barely qualifies for the brachycephalic group; the most common cutoff value for men is 83.1. Brachycephalic skulls are short and broad; in the animal kingdom, a pug would be the most extreme example of this shape. So whenever you think about Tutankhamun, you can associate him with a pug.
In a study from 2010 called "Ancestry and Pathology in King Tutankhamun's Family," the authors used molecular genetics and Ancient DNA to see if any conditions could cause elongated skulls. Some medical conditions are associated with elongated skulls. While it would not be artificial deformation, we might be able to see some genetics that could indicate that it was the case. However, when studied, the authors noted no signs of "gynecomastia, craniosynostoses, Antley-Bixler syndrome or deficiency in cytochrome P450 oxidoreductase, Marfan syndrome, or related disorders."
The study did not focus only on Tutankhamun but his whole known family that we have found so far. The cephalic index and genetics were the same for the entire family; the depictions of the family with longer heads seem to have been an artistic choice. It's still a relatively open question as to why they did it; the head was not associated with intelligence per se. The Egyptians believed you thought with your heart. It's a pretty logical idea when you think about it since the heart reacts to things by pumping slower or faster. The most likely answer to why Akhenaten chose to be depicted as he and his family was where to separate them from the rest of society. He wanted them to stand out since they were living representations of a god, Aten. In places where we see ACD, it's not as much that the society wants one or two to stick out, but the act is done as a form of ethnic unity and comradery.
But where did this idea originate from?
"I'm suggesting that mummification is based on our ancestors who watched extraterrestrials getting ready for a flight through deep space. One possibility is to be frozen or to be put into animated sleep, where you're inside this quote end quote 'sarcophagus', this coffin. And so our ancestors might have watched is type of preparation, and then they misunderstood this for the gods dying. And so our ancestors mummified themselves in order to be ready for the return of the gods with the hopes that the gods would reanimate them from the dead in the future." - Giorgio Tsoukalos.
This is a fantastic story, right? It's the most creative idea that an Ancient Alien proponent has developed so far. It's a fun sci-fi spin, but as usual, things start to fall apart when we compare this to the reality of what the Ancient Egyptians believed.
Afterlife in Ancient Egypt
So, let's deal a little with the Egyptian afterlife. This topic is a bit more complex than our Western idea of the afterlife, especially if you are a part of the Christian, Muslim, or even Jewish faith. While Christians have the idea of being judged in the afterlife just as the Ancient Egyptians, it's only the judgment part that is similar. Just the trip to the point where your life would be judged was a hassle. That's why you needed those Book of the Deads and coffin texts. You needed to know all the secret handshakes and have some protection with you. Also, your chances might be limited if your family didn't add the proper rituals. If they did not include DB 23, for example, the ceremony to open your mouth, you could have trouble with some of the challenges.
"My mouth is given to me,
My mouth is opened by Ptah,
With that chisel of metal
With which he opened the mouth of the gods.
I am Sekhmet-Wadjet who dwells in the west of heaven,
I am Sahyt among the souls of On."
Because when you had passed through all the gates, made the proper handshakes, answered the riddles, and bested the beasts, the person could enter the Hall of Two Truths. There, they were supposed to recite the negative confessions, handily listed in DB 125, and contain things like.
"I gave bread to the hungry, beer to the thirsty, clothes to the naked. /.../ I have not deprived a orphan of his property."
After this, the famous ritual of weighing the heart against the feather, a representation of Maat, the good of truth, if the heart was lighter than a feather, the person could become part of Osiris. When that happened, you became a transformed Akh and had a pleasant afterlife in the Duat. If you failed this trial, then you were no more. The Ancient Egyptians did not have a concept of hell. You either went to the next world, or you ceased to exist. A fate that was an utterly terrifying thought to the Egyptians.
I've brought up two concepts earlier, Akh and Ba. Akh, as you notice, is the person's spirit after death and the representation of the individual. Then we have the Ba, one part of your soul. In Egyptian art, it is represented by a bird with a human face. This part of the soul stayed with the body in the dark tomb during the night and, during the day, went out in the sunshine. As you remember, this is the origin of the Egyptian name for the Book of the Dead.
Then we have the Ka, the life energy, and a body double, more or less. It's represented by two arms stretched up. I might make an American or two happy now, like the referee in your American football during a field goal. A common euphemism for "to die" was to say "to go to one's Ka." While this part of your soul existed at birth, the Ka was most associated with death. It was also the part of the soul that needed material sustenance. So, the grave good was given to ensure that the Ka would not starve, and in a pinch, writing or depicting rituals of providing food and beer could suffice.
But to live again, the body needed to be intact; without it, the Ka and the Ba had no anchor, and the Akh would cease to exist. That's why they mummified the bodies and even created backup devices like Ka and Ba statues. Even the coffins were turned into a sort of failsafe device. During the Old Kingdom box coffins were mainly used. But this would change, and anthropoid coffins had replaced the box version by the time of the Middle Kingdom. So everything was designed to ensure you would have an afterlife because if your body was destroyed or your Ba could not recognize it, you were gone.
The idea that the Ancient Egyptians tried to imitate alien cryostasis does not make sense. However, it is interesting that you could be thrown out even if you enter the Duat or their idea of heaven. During this time, the Akh, Ka, and Ba existed alongside each other. As you notice, the Egyptian afterlife is far more complex than the Ancient Alien theorists give them credit for.
While we could spend much more time on Mummies and the afterlife, we will leave the topic here for now. The show did not go into mummification here, and I think that topic deserves a lot of attention and most likely its own segment. So keep an eye out for that. Let's have a break here, but when we return, we will deal with the famous vampire.
Welcome back! Let's continue this travel into the night's horrors by examining the vampire! A creature that has captivated our imagination for centuries. Like the Egyptian mummy, the vampire has been a staple of popular media, such as poems and books, since the mid-1700s. And it's somewhere there the idea of the sophisticated vampire villain would start to take shape. While we often associate vampire lore with the Slavic regions and Romania, these creatures can be found in many other locations. However, they drastically differ from each other, and the only similarity is often limited to being undead and consuming a living person's life force.
Even a simple thing like where a vampire would bite you differs across Europe. Today, the vampire is associated chiefly with drinking blood from the neck, but not all vampires drink blood. If they would bite you, the location would differ; among the Kashuban population in modern Poland, the vampire would bite the left breast. In Russia, they make a hole in your chest above the heart; in Gdansk, they would nibble your nipple. Some will drink blood, some will eat flesh, and some will just consume your life force. (shadows quote)
How to create a vampire differs to the extreme. In Greece, you could become a vampire simply by an animal jumping over your corpse. In Russia, suicide and drowning victims were known to come back as vampires.
But why are we talking about vampires other than the spooktacular? I'll let the narrator take us there.
"Oaxaca, Mexico. Situated on a low mountain range rising above the central plain, lie the ancient ruins of Monte Albán. Here, around 100 BC, researchers believe the Zapotec Indians worshipped a bloodthirsty Mayan god with the body of a man and the head of a bat. They called him Camazotz." - Narrator.
Camazotz is a creature that seems to have created some confusion online and within the alien community. If you google Camazotz, one of the first images you will see is a Batman mask that looks to have been created by the Mayans. It was not. It was created by the Mexican designer Anlita Kimbal in 2014 to celebrate the 75th anniversary of DC's Batman comic. It was part of an exhibition where several other artists released their version of Batman.
With that out of the way, we can focus on if there was a god called Camazotz. The name means, in the Kʼicheʼ language, death bat. It is an appropriate name since the bats were symbols of rot, destruction, and death in Mesoamerica. In some stories, the bats are associated with blood sacrifice, and it seems as if the people knew that the bats drank blood not by biting but by slicing a small wound and then lapping the blood. However, only two out of the 120 species living in Mesoamerica drink blood. Most of the others eat fruits, nectar, and insects. That some bats snatch fruits out of the trees might be why the bats are associated with decapitation.
In the classic Maya society, bats are usually rendered with eyes almost popping out of their sockets and symbols of death like bones and skulls around them. In the postclassic Maya society, we start to see them more associated with sacrifice, and they are depicted with flint knives and severed heads. The classic Zapotec mostly finds bats painted on the funerary urns. But we also have other depictions of the bat holding a chipped knife, as in the postclassic period.
The most known story featuring Camazotz might be the Kʼicheʼ Popul Vuh. This a story we discuss in more detail in episode 28. Popul Vuh is a story that, in part, follows the hero twins, and they are about to play a match against the lords of the underworld. These lords are not keen on the idea of a potential loss, so they try to cheat. Letting the hero twins sleep in the House of Bats, why is it named like that? Well, because it's filled with bats, who are, of course, trying to kill the hero twins. The twins manage to seek shelter inside their blow-guns. But Hannahpu started to wonder if the sun would rise and peaked up, and immediately, one bat swooped down and took his head off. The head was given to the Lords of the Underworld to use as a ball in their next game. The other brother, Xbalanque, got help from an opossum and other animals to replace the head with a pumpkin.
So, the bats clearly had their place within the mythology of Mesoamerica. But as far I can tell, Camazotz had no temples or cults. While having a vital position within the religion, they were not a god in their own right. And as far we can tell, the chief patron deity of Monte Alban was the rain god Cocijo. This god is often portrayed with a hooked nose and the tongue of the serpent. The second popular diety is Xipe Totec, and this fellow is not the god for those faint of heart. The name translates to the flayed one. This god is often depicted dressed in human skin, wearing a headdress, and holding a bloody knife. Xipe Totec was predominantly a god of agriculture. It was believed that he sacrificed himself by flaying his own skin off to give nurture to the fields. During his festivals, a slave often had to stand in as a representative of the god. Sacrifices were caught during wars they engaged in. But with the skin and blood, the ground would bear plenty of food.
I'd say that focusing on Xipe Totec might have been a better choice, to be honest. But I assume they wanted a bat since that is more Western-centric. Speaking of Westernism, we will now move up to my neck of the woods and the cold, dark north.
"In Norse mythology, a draugr was a person who lived a sinful life. After dying, they would come back from the dead and haunt the living." - Narrator.
Some of you who listen might be most familiar with the draugr from the game Skyrim, in which they are animated corpses defending their tombs. But Draugr does not have a good counterpart within the other cultures. Sure, as skeptics, we can here argue that it does not matter since no ghosts, vampires, or other spirits are real. But when we want to track an idea or folklore from an anthropological perspective, it does help if we can categorize it.
Especially in Iceland, the medieval ghost differed from the continent. In contrast to the well-known see-through specter, the Icelandic spirit came with a body. So here, already, they are more similar to the idea of a vampire. But the idea of the draugr is far more complicated than this. You see, in all those stories that are usually referred to as examples of draugr, the word is never used. In the Grettirs saga, it's often said that the character Glam is a draugr, but the word is never used. Instead, we see aptrogongur or reimleikar being used in the stories. The same in other examples like Laxdæla or Eyrbyggja saga, we don't see the term in reference to the ghosts at Fróðá nor about Þórólf Lame-Foot.
While the term draugr was used during the Viking and medieval eras, we don't see it associated with any of the most famous examples. Often, we rather see it being used to describe an enemy. But it is suggested that the term draugr is connected to the poetic metaphor of describing the dead as wood. A poetic description we have preserved in Solarljoð goes as follows.
"Tunga min / vas til tres metin / ok kolnat at fyr utan" "My tounge / was like wood / and it was cold outside." Another poetic description is "a wooden log you where (a reference to the creation of human story), a wooden log (draugr) you will become."
What might be the real connection between draugr and the undead in the stories is that they are referred to as troll or troll-like. With troll, I don’t mean the creatures that turn into stone in sunlight or fight the fellowship of the ring in Moria. No, in the Scandinavian languages, troll can also be translated to magic or witchcraft. And it can be applied to witches, ghosts, demons, or even the giant creatures that one might find in Moria. Basically, any outcast with magical properties would be affected by troll or use magical powers in general.
But why is Glam associated with being a draugr while the word is never used? Well, it stems from how he became a draugr and what happened after. Glam did not start out as an undead creature of the night; he was a great fighter and monster hunter from Sweden. Within the Grettirs saga is a farmer named Þórhallur/Thorhall, and he has issues with evil spirits that drain the life force of his sheep. Thorhall got the recommendation to hire Glam to solve his issues. I like that in the story when Thorhall points out to Glam that the place has evil spirits, Glam retorts, "Ekki hræðist eg flykur þær," sagði Glámur, "og þykir mér að ódauflega." "Such bugs will not scare me," quoth Glam; "life seems to me less irksome thereby."
But Glam should have been scared; he did not survive the encounter with the meinvættr (evil spirit). But here is why draugr is more vampire than a ghost. If killed by this creature, you yourself will become one. Another little factoid here is that we have some potential werewolf crossover because Glam is described after his death as having “úlfgrár á hárslit” or, in English, “with wolf grey hair.” But as things turn out, Grettir is then called upon to solve this new creature that haunts the valley. Glam killed the first one but took his place. There seems to be some sort of connection between these two monster hunters, almost like the Winchester brothers in Supernatural. The two seem to have some sort of understanding between each other and in the end, Glam is bested. But Grettir is hit by Glam's evil eye and turns into a cruel being and an outcast. In the end, even Grettir is being referred to as troll by a society that shun him. It was almost as if the draugr took parts of his life force.
But we learn here that, in a sense, the draugr or this type of undead is contagious. So it seems to get nourishment from the living, not their blood but their life force. And getting bitten or in contact with the draugr will make you one in the end. Another interesting aspect is as the show actually points out, this curse seems to develop initially in selfish, greedy, and evil people. Glam was not a good person. Therefore, he is more susceptible to the curse compared to Grettir. But the curse can take hold of a corpse if the person was evil in their life too. Something that becomes clear when reading the Laxdæla saga or Eyrbyggja saga.
In Laxdæla, Víga-Hrappr is described as being unfair and next to paranoid in protecting his land from his neighbors. As his death draws near, Víga becomes more aggressive, and upon his death, he is described as being “bad as he was in life, the worse he got in death.” While dead, he is the same person, just much worse. The story kind of repeats itself with Þórólf Lame-Foot, except that Þórólf hates anyone younger than him. Even his son gets a taste of that hatred. In that story, the draugr of Þórólf is the same person, except his hatred increased in death. What connects these stories is that both these men don’t want to give up power and let the younger step forward. But none of the men seem to be suffering in their fate, but their surroundings do. These spirits killed their old servants, family, and neighbors.
Another interesting thing that Sayer points out in the essay “Alien and the Alienated” is that ghosts are associated with evil or marginalized people in medieval Icelandic texts. If you were in the outskirts of society, you were more likely to be associated with troll and the undead than those who participated with the norm.
But can we see that the Scandinavians during the Viking age worry or take any precautions to avoid people returning as undead? Kind of. We have at least two runestones in Denmark. One is found at Nørre Nærå with signum DR 211; on it, we can read “ÞōrmundR. Niūt kumbls.” or in English, “Thormund, enjoy the burial mound.” On DR 239, located in Gørlevs perish, we have a spell written on the stone. On it we can read:
“Þiuþwi resþi sten þænsi æft Oþinkor fuþorkhniastbmlʀ niut wæl kumbls! þistill/mistill/kistill, iak satta ru[na]ʀ ret“ - Gørlev 1.
Translated to English, we learn the following:
“Tjodvi erected this stone after Odinkar. Enjoy the mound well. Thistle, mistle, whistle, I wrote the runes well.”
The word-for-word translation here would be “thistle, mistle, small chest,” but I decided to be a bit more artistic and keep the rhyme. This spell is also found on a Swedish stone, ÖG 181, and in Borgund stave church in Norway. But these two carvings seem to be aimed to keep the dead happy in the ground. There is also a find in Sweden of a small bronze plate with a spell on it that seems to be aimed at keeping the dead down. The plate called the Högstena plate (Vg 216) was found in 1920 when workers at a cemetery were doing some work in the ground. On it, we can read over the rather poorly written runes:
“Gal anda viðr, gangla viðr, riðanda við(r), viðr rinnanda, viðr s[it]ianda, viðr sign[and]a, viðr f[a]randa, viðr fliughanda. S[kal] alt fy[r]na ok um dø[i]a.”
“I Galdr toward the spirits. Toward those prone to walk, towards the rider, the runner, the sitting. Towards the hardened, the traveler, and the flying one. The evil one will leave and die.”
So we have here some examples where it seems as if the people during the Viking age tried to some degree to stop the dead from rising again. From these small samples, it’s hard to say this was a widespread practice. What we can say is that to some, this was a concern they had. But not everyone would have the means of carving these spells in stone or bronze, it could be argued that wood would have been used more commonly. Unfortunately, these have not been preserved to our age, and this is speculation from my end here. While these are just stories, they still give us an insight into the world of medieval Scandinavians. The warnings and lessons they tried to share through the stories.
On that note, I will close out the episode. We did not find those elusive aliens this time either, but maybe we have better luck next time.
Until then, please spread the word by leaving a positive review on platforms like iTunes, Spotify, or even among your fellow trench dwellers. For more information about me and my podcast, check out diggingupancientaliens.com.
You'll find an extensive list of sources and resources and reading recommendations for those eager to expand their knowledge on the subject matter on the episode page.
If you want to support the show, head over to patreon.com/diggingupancientaliens, or if you want to get the most out of your buck. Head on over to archaeologicalpodcastnetwork.com, where you get a ton of bonus content, slack channels, and early ad-free episodes. That membership covers every episode, so that’s a great amount of content for your hard-earned money.
If you want to contact me, it can be done through most social media sites, and if you have comments, corrections, suggestions, or just want to write an email in all caps, you can find my contact info on the website.
Sandra Marteleur created the intro music, and our outro is by the band called Trallskruv, who sings their song "tin foil hat." Links to both these artists will be found in the show notes.
Until next time, keep shoveling that science!
Sources, resources, and further reading suggestions
Baruch Arensburg and Hershkovitz, I. (1988). Cranial deformation and trephination in the Middle East. Cahiers Du Centre De Recherches Anthropologiques, 5(3), pp.139–150. doi:https://doi.org/10.3406/bmsap.1988.1669.
Blakemore, E. (2019). Ancient Egyptian ‘head Cone mystery’ Solved by Archaeologists. [online] National Geographic. Available at: https://www.nationalgeographic.com/history/article/ancient-egyptian-head-cone-mystery-solved.
Boyer, R.S., Rodin, E.A., Grey, T.C. and Connolly, R.C. (2003). The Skull and Cervical Spine Radiographs of Tutankhamen: A Critical Appraisal. American Journal of Neuroradiology, [online] 24(6), pp.1142–1147. Available at: https://www.ajnr.org/content/24/6/1142.
Brewer, D.J. and Teeter, E. (2010). Egypt and the Egyptians. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Brier, B. (2022). Tutankhamun and the Tomb That Changed the World. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Dannenfeldt, K.H. (1985). Egyptian Mumia: The Sixteenth Century Experience and Debate. Sixteenth Century Journal, 16(2), p.163. doi:https://doi.org/10.2307/2540910.
Eyrbyggja saga. (1892). [online] Translated by W. Morris. and Translated by E. Magnusson. Available at: https://www.sagadb.org/eyrbyggja_saga.en.
Faulkner, R.O., Goelet, Jr, O., Von Dassow, E. and Wasserman, J. (2008). The Egyptian Book of the Dead: the Book of Going Forth by Day : Being the Papyrus of Ani. Chronicle Books.
Gørlev 1 Runestone (ca 800 - 900 CE) [Stone.] At: Gørlev, Sjælland: Denmark. DR 239 (alt. DK Sj46)
Grettis saga. (1914). [online] Translated by G.H. Hight. Available at: https://www.sagadb.org/grettis_saga.en2.
Harrison, R.G. (1966). An Anatomical Examination of the Pharaonic Remains Purported to Be Akhenaten. The Journal of Egyptian Archaeology, 52, p.95. doi:https://doi.org/10.2307/3855823.
Hawass, Z. (2010). Ancestry and Pathology in King Tutankhamun’s Family. JAMA, [online] 303(7), p.638. doi:https://doi.org/10.1001/jama.2010.121.
Hawass, Z.A., Saleem, S.N. and D’auria, S. (2016). Scanning the Pharaohs: CT Imaging of the New Kingdom Royal Mummies. Cairo; New York: The American University in Cairo Press.
Högstenabläcket. (ca. 900-1100). [Bronze.] At: Stockholm: Historiska Museet. 107863_HST
Jakobsson, Á. (2009). The Fearless Vampire Killers: A Note about the IcelandicDraugrand Demonic Contamination inGrettis Saga. Folklore, 120(3), pp.307–316. doi:https://doi.org/10.1080/00155870903219771.
Jakobsson, Á. (2011). Vampires and Watchmen: Categorizing the Mediaeval Icelandic Undead. The Journal of English and Germanic Philology, 110(3), p.281. doi:https://doi.org/10.5406/jenglgermphil.110.3.0281.
Janák, J. (2003). Journey to the Resurrection. Chapter 105 of the Book of the Dead in the New Kingdom. Studien zur Altägyptischen Kultur, [online] 31, pp.193–210. Available at: https://www.jstor.org/stable/25152890.
Jones, J., Higham, T.F.G., Oldfield, R., O’Connor, T.P. and Buckley, S.A. (2014). Evidence for Prehistoric Origins of Egyptian Mummification in Late Neolithic Burials. PLoS ONE, 9(8), p.e103608. doi:https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0103608.
Laxdæla saga. (1909). [online] Translated by R. Proctor. Available at: https://www.sagadb.org/laxdaela_saga.en2.
Moog, F.P. and Karenberg, A. (2003). Between Horror and Hope: Gladiator?s Blood as a Cure for Epileptics in Ancient Medicine. Journal of the History of the Neurosciences, 12(2), pp.137–143. doi:https://doi.org/10.1076/jhin.22.214.171.12433.
Nørre Nærå Runestone (ca 750 - 900 CE) [Stone.] At: Nørre Nærå: Fyn: Denmark. DR 211 (alt. DK Fyn25)
Price, C., Forshaw, R., Chamberlain, A. and Nicholson, P. (2016). Mummies, Magic and Medicine in Ancient Egypt. Manchester: Manchester University Press.
Sayers, W. (1996). Alien and Alienated as Unquiet Dead in the Sagas of the Icelanders. in Monster Theory. In: J.J. Cohen, ed., Monster Theory: Reading Culture. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, pp.242–263.
Scalf, F. ed., (2017). Book of the Dead: Becoming God in Ancient Egypt. Chicago: Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago.
Schulte, M. (2020). ‘Tistel-mistel’-formelen i vikingtid og nordisk middelalder: Form, funksjon og symbolverdi. Maal og Minne, [online] 112(2), pp.97–127. Available at: https://ojs.novus.no/index.php/MOM/article/view/1901.
Turner, M.D. (2023). Two God-Kings, Two Skulls: Artificial Cranial Deformation in Akhenaten of Egypt and Khingila of the Huns. Cureus, [online] 15(3). doi:https://doi.org/10.7759/cureus.36751.
Wallis Budge, E.A. (2016). The Ancient Egyptian Book of the Dead. New York: Wellfleet Press.
“Folie hatt” by Trallskruv
Lily of the woods by Sandra Marteleur