The grave of a 'vampire child' buried more than 2,000 years ago has been excavated by stunned archaeologists who found the body had been weighed down, over fears it would rise from the dead.
Evidence of a ritualistic burial was found deep underground when a team in Rome, Italy, dug up the remains of a child aged 10, which had a stone placed in its mouth.
The ancient funeral practice took place when people feared the person would rise from the dead and infect people, experts revealed.
However, tests on the skeleton - now known as the 'Vampire of Lugnano' - revealed the child whose sex cannot be determined was infected with malaria at the time it died, the Independent reported.
'I've never seen anything like it. It's extremely eerie and weird,' said Professor David Soren, an archaeologist at the University of Arizona said.
Those present at the site said the stone was forced inside the jaw, showing it was put there with intent.
The remains were found in the Cemetery of Children where other bizarre discoveries have been made.
Elsewhere another child, believed to be aged three at the time of death, was covered in stones.
Tests have so far discovered the body was likely to have been buried in the fifth century at the time of a malaria outbreak.
Teams investigating burials have found what they believe is evidence of witchcraft
Items dug up included raven talons and bronze cauldrons.
The cemetery may have been designated for children with diseases. Over the summer five new grave sites were found in the cemetery, under a tiled tomb.
Bioarchaeologist Jordan Wilson, a PhD student who examined the body said: 'This is a very unusual mortuary treatment that you see in various forms in different cultures, especially in the Roman world, that could indicate there was a fear that this person might come back from the dead and try to spread disease to the living.'
David Pickel, a PhD student a Stanford who directed the excavation said he knew he had found something rare when he reached the tomb.
Other medieval methods of 'stopping vampire' corpses returning to earth include burying them with a stake through the heart.
Cases of such have been found across Europe and in Britain.
It is believed to be a 'deviant burial', where people considered the 'dangerous dead', such as vampires, were interred to prevent them rising from their graves to plague the living.
Only a handful of such burials have been unearthed in the UK.
In Bulgaria in 2012 archaeologists found remains from a third grave in central Bulgaria linked to the practice.
The skeleton was tied to the ground with four iron clamps, while burning embers were placed on top of his grave.
The bones of a man in his thirties were believed to be at least several centuries old, and experts believed he had been subjected to a superstition-driven ritual to prevent him from becoming one after his death.
Two years later further such gruesome graves were found at the ancient temple of Perperion, south-east of the Bulgarian capital Sofia.