The undead don’t exist. At least, not anymore.

But there was a time when the dead were troublesome creatures, liable to rise up from the grave and cause all sorts of mischief, wreaking havoc and spreading death. We know this because there is no shortage of historical accounts, including official government reports:

Not without astonishment, I saw some fresh blood in his mouth, which, according to the common observation, he had sucked from the people killed by him… with great speed [the villagers] sharpened a stake in order to pierce the corpse of the deceased… as he was pierced, not only did much blood, completely fresh, flow also through his ears and mouth, but still other wild signs” – The Imperial Provisor for the Gradisk District; 1725).

You might not believe in zombies, vampires, ghouls or revenants – but your forefathers did. And they made damn well sure that none of them were going to rise up out of the grave. The archaeological record bears testament to the grim truth. These are the methods that were used to stop the undead. Take note.

1. Place Sickles around the Throat

Probably the most inventive ways of protecting against the walking dead. No need to get your hands dirty.

2.Shove Rocks in their Mouths

Another widespread approach. The German nachzehrer were said to be “shroud-eaters” – they would chew through their own shroud, and then start sucking the blood of the bodies around them. However, it wasn’t just the Germanic undead who had a penchant for the taste of shroud. All bodies – as a natural process of decomposition – are liable to exude acidic bloody fluids from the mouth, which rots through the shroud and gives the distinct appearance that they have been having a good munch.

3.Weigh them Down

“Stoning” – weighing down the body with a heavy load – was one of the most widespread approaches to securing bodies in the grave. Easy and effective.  Here, we see a quern stone (a sort of grinding stone) being utilised.

4.Bury them Face down

Prone burials was the most straightforward way with dealing with feared corpses. If the corpse came back to life, it was thought that they would just dig themselves further into the dirt.

5.Throw them in a Bog

One of the easiest methods to dispose of the dangerous dead was to throw them in the sea, river or – failing that – a nearby bog. Old Croghan Man was an Iron age bog body who was likely murdered. But the murderer wasn’t going to take any chances, and clearly wanted to be sure that the corpse didn’t seek out revenge. The head was cut off, partially dismembered, his arms were pierced staked with hazel rods, and then he was thrown into the bog.

If you intend to use this method, please be aware that whilst bodies sink at first, decomposing bodies have a habit of rising back up to the surface, so you have to stake or weight them down. Nowadays, only the mafia seem to be aware of this phenomenon.

6.Stake Them

The classic technique for dealing with vampires. Observed in a wide variety of cultures, not just eastern Europe.

7.Tie them up.

Binding of limbs was often used in conjunction with other techniques such as decapitation and prone burial. The native Australians just tied the big toes together, so that the undead would trip themselves up if they tried to walk.  I like to think this was done purely with the intention of producing some quite brilliant moments of slapstick comedy.

8.Cut off their Heads.

A favourite technique of the Anglo-Saxons, and still practiced in modern-day Haiti. Post-mortem decapitation is certainly one of the most tried-and-tested methods of dealing with zombies. Good practice is to place the skull between the legs, in case the decapitated revenant attempts to reach for their own skull.

9. Burn them

The ultimate way to deal with disposal of the undead. However, this is exceptionally difficult, given the energy requirements to burn a human body, and was hence often blundered before other methods were resorted to.

10. Bar up the Coffin

There are quite a few of the pictures floating around the web of “caged anti-zombie graves”. These have nothing to do with the undead, but were actually mortsafes. The intention was actually the reverse – to keep the living away from the dead – at a time when grave-robbery was rife.


However, the tactic of sealing up the tomb has been used to restrain the undead. For example, a 16th century church burial in Prostejov, Slovakia discovered a body that had been buried in a coffin reinforced with iron bars. If that wasn’t enough to restrain the body, the legs had been severed and stones placed on them