Mortuary Archeology in Poland: The Slavia Project’s Deviant Burials

Aleese Callum

Images of adolescent female with a copper headband and coin placed by her left mandible. There is also a bow shaped sickle that was placed with the blade firmly against her throat (Slavia Project 2012).

A Little About the Internship

This summer I got accepted to attend a Mortuary Archaeology Field school located in Ryczyn, Poland. The school is well known as The Slavia Project (http://www.slavia.org/), and the objective is to teach students from around the world the studies of Adult and Juvenile Osteology, Human Burial Excavation, Bio-archaeology in Practice, Early Medieval Funerary Practices in Poland, Archaeological Field Research Techniques, as well as Archaeological Material Processing and Curation. The other goal is to rescue the excavations at the endangered archaeological site of Drawsko (the main site for ‘deviant’ burials!)

For several weeks’ students are in both the field honing their excavation skills as well as the lab to analyze the bones and cultural material, and in turn making science look exceptionally cool! Needless to say, this is an AMAZING opportunity and one would be insane to not go for an international trip across the world to dig up bones in a Medieval Cemetery!

Unfortunately, the Summer of 2020 proved to be a very hard one for many, due to the COVID19 pandemic, so this trip, like many others I’m sure, was cancelled. But I will sit here and encourage you that with passion comes determination. So instead of physically travelling to Poland, I took a “Cyber-trip” to Poland’s Medieval Era and discovered a world of Myths, Superstitions, Archaeological finds and Scientific Debate.

Internship to Practicum: What I Did Instead

The first and most important task that I had to ensure, was to establish and maintain my communication with the lead supervisor for the trip. Dr. Polcyn and I communicated via email throughout the entire process. Even after the trip was cancelled and transformed from an internship to a practicum, she was willing to send me references, suggestions for reading material and would answer any and all my questions that I had during my research.

Since my internship had been turned into a practicum, you can guess that a lot of the work was done by digging through Research Articles, Academic Journals and Thesis’ of other researchers. All relevant material had to then be annotated and the final product is, in my opinion, an amazing paper that covers the topic of ‘deviant’ burials and the connection they have to past and modern claims to ‘vampires’! I told you I found a world of Myths and Superstition along-side Archaeological finds! If I am being honest, as fun as it would have been to travel to Poland, I don’t think that I would have discovered the deep connection that the Slavic folkloric culture and today’s modern subculture has with these deviant graves. Yes, I have discovered a modern subculture of individuals who have taken the discoveries made by archaeologist and melded it with Slavic folklore to make the claim that vampires are real and that they themselves are in fact…vampires.

In Conclusion

In the end, I have managed to form a connection with someone who is willing to guide me through my future endeavors within the field of Mortuary Archaeology, that has international experience. I am honored to say that Dr. Polcyn has invited me back to join them for the next session, given the hopes that COVID19 will be a thing of the past.

I have also learned so much and this research has peaked my interest in deviant graves. I would like to learn more about deviant graves from around the world and what cultural connections they may have. Are they as strong as the ones in Europe during the Middle Ages? I am going to work hard to find the answer to that question!

As a final note, I will encourage anyone who has a desire to travel for an internship, please, go for it. I will also encourage you to form strong connections with the individuals that are guiding you through your internship, don’t drop the ball on maintaining a connection with them, even after the internship is over. These individuals can help you in so many ways and who doesn’t want help in forming a successful career or just reaching a certain goal in life?

Works Cited

Slavia Project. 2012. “Grave 6/2012.” Slavia Foundation. Buried with sickles: early modern interments from Drawsko, Poland. Drawsko.