8. The Starving Boy
In 2011, a skull was found by cave explorers outside Ballyvaughan village in Ireland. It wasn’t new, prompting archaeologists rather than the police to descend upon the cave. They pieced together a tragic story.
At first, the size of the skeleton made everyone think it was a boy around age eight. But dental analysis showed that he was a severely stunted 14- to 16-year-old. When experts examined the bones, it became clear that he had lived a hard life.
For most of his existence, the adolescent had suffered from such starvation and probably illness that it stopped his skeleton from growing at least once a year. He died between 1520 and 1670. During that time, the area buckled under two decades of war, sickness, famine, and death on a large scale.
Having already gone through a miserable life, the boy also suffered a lonely death. There’s no indication that he was murdered or even buried in the niche where he was found in a huddled position. What he was doing in the area will never be known. But the teen likely fell through an opening in the cave roof, crawled into the space, and died.
7. Italy’s Witch Girls
In medieval Italy, a sick girl received a peculiar burial. Respect for the deceased was so far removed from the details that archaeologists began to suspect they were looking at the victim of a witch hunt. She was burned and roughly dumped before the gravesite was fortified with hefty stone blocks, almost as if to prevent the dead girl from rising.
During her short lifetime of 15–17 years, she grew no taller than 145 centimeters (4’9″). She also suffered from crippling iron-deficiency anemia, weak enamel from childhood malnutrition, and possibly scurvy.
Unnatural paleness and fainting spells could have led a superstitious community to view her symptoms as witch-identifying signs. It’s not known whether she was burned alive. But analysis showed that soft tissues were present at the time, indicating that it happened shortly before or after death.
This is not the first time that an ancient “witch burial” featuring a sick girl was found at San Calocero. On an earlier occasion, a 13-year-old female with scurvy was found buried facedown in a probable attempt to stop her from escaping the grave.