Humans’ relationship with corpses is a bit weird, even when not talking about Ed Gein. Every organism on the planet is dead infinitely longer than it is alive, making death kind of the natural state of all things. Yet, the sight of a dead body always rattles and upsets us, even in the best of circumstances. And, well, the following burial sites from around the world are like the opposite of best circumstances, which might explain why just reading about them feels like Mr. Freeze sensually moving his tongue up your spine. And if you found that image disturbing, just wait till you hear about …

Chauchilla Cemetery: Peru’s Pillaged Open-Air Necropolis

Located about 20 miles from the city of Nazca in Peru, the Chauchilla Cemetery is like a subtle jab at Ancient Egypt, accusing it of being a little extra with their dearly departed. It’s as if whoever designed the necropolis wanted to say, “Oh, so over there, you guys spend more than two months meticulously mummifying a dead body and then hiding it in a giant nipple-looking building? Must be nice to have that much free time on your hands. We keep things simpler, but that’s just us. You keep doing you, sweeties.”

Chauchilla was established in the early 3rd century AD and served as Peru’s premiere prehispanic mummification station for over six centuries. Their process was very straightforward. When a body arrived at Chauchilla, it was wrapped in cotton and painted with resin, which sealed the flavors in, so to speak, in order to keep out bugs and bacteria. Then the varnished body was hung out to dry. Literally. The bodies were hoisted up on drying posts to let the dry heat of the surrounding desert naturally mummify them, after which the corpses were laid to rest in mud-bricked tombs. But rest peacefully they did not because Chauchilla was routinely plundered by graverobbers.

Chances are that whoever Lara Croft-ed in Chauchilla was trying to commit suicide by vengeful spirit, considering that they stole stuff off centuries-old corpses that were preserved so well, they still had their hair and a lot of their skin. But they could always use more.

Not only that, the robbers strewed the bones around all willy-nilly all over the necropolis, including the specially prepared heads with holes drilled in the back. Don’t worry; these were done postmortem in order to thread a rope through the heads and create a skull necklace or belt used for some kind of ritual. Well, okay, maybe worry a little.

The Peruvian government has now taken custody of the graveyard and tried to rebuild it as best as possible, which did include putting some of the corpses back together like some kind of Cenobite puzzle. Today, the bodies of Chauchilla are displayed in 12 open tombs, most of them presented in a sitting position, almost as if Peru wanted to make it easier for them to get out and finish some centuries-old revenge business. Probably just a coincidence.

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Poland’s Vampire Graves

So it turns out that the Witcher franchise might be a faithful depiction of Polish culture in ways other than everyone constantly swearing up a storm. Archeological research suggests that hundreds of years ago, the people of Poland were constantly living in fear of vampires, and unfortunately, not the ones who only romance boring high schoolers. No, these were old-school Slavic vampires, meaning that they were immune to sunlight, ate their own flesh early on after their transformation before moving on to humans, and often went after their own families.

They also weren’t created through prickly hickeys. Polish vampires were more like revenants – corpses that rose from the grave with supernatural powers. Or at least tried to rise because old-timey Polish people decided they won’t just stand around with their thumbs up their asses waiting to get said asses eaten in a non-sexy way, so they took precautions. For example, a body of a suspected vampire discovered in 2014 in the town of Kamien Pomorski, northwestern Poland, had all of its teeth removed, a stone shoved in its mouth, and its leg staked to the ground to prevent snack runs outside the cemetery. Because when Poland says, “Rest in peace,” it’s not a suggestion.

In 2013, a dig in Gliwice, southern Poland, uncovered more possible vampire graves where at least four bodies had their heads removed and placed between their legs. In both cases, the bodies dated back to around the 16th century, which proves that Poland’s vampire problem got worse in the late 1500s because, starting around the 17th century, the Polish people felt the need to boobytrap the burial sites of suspected vamps. For example, a body discovered this year in the southern village of Pien had a sharp sickle placed over its neck to decapitate it if it suddenly jolted up craving some free-range Soylent Green.

Other vampire graves found all throughout Poland also contained bodies crushed by rocks, staked through every part of the body, chained up, or with sickles placed around their pelvises because you know the old saying: a problem sickled is a problem halved.

Now comes the sad part of the article. There is a tiny chance that none of those people were actual vampires based on the little-known scientific fact that vampires don’t exist. The more likely explanation is that these bodies were mentally-ill people, victims of cholera, or folks with slight physical disabilities who read books besides the Bible. So, you see, these graves might not be the burial sites of mythological monsters but rather of innocent, misunderstood people who were persecuted, tortured, murdered, and had their corpses mutilated because they differed from their neighbors in some way. Wait, that’s worse…

Three Mountains of Dewa: Land of the Living Mummies

Japan has more “oldest person ever” titles than any other country, and what’s more impressive is that they’ve managed to achieve that without counting the sokushinbutsu, or “living Buddha” mummies, scattered around the Three Mountains of Dewa in Yamagata Prefecture. Who sadly don’t look anything like this:

That’s some solid fair play on Japan’s part, seeing as some of the sokushinbutsu are nearly 300 years old. Sure, the law and science claim that they are dead, but according to the syncretic Shugendo beliefs, they have actually become Buddhas “in the body” and have chosen to remain on Earth to save people from suffering and disease. And, look, after what they all went through, these living Buddha monks have more than earned the right to identify as living if they want to.

To put it plainly, sokushinbutsu is the process of self-mummification by eating a tree. Let’s unwrap that. Because Japan doesn’t have Egyptian heat or Irish bogs, they had to get creative to preserve bodies and decided that if you want something done right, then you have to do it yourself. So a monk who wanted to become a living Buddha would start by undergoing “mokujiki” or “tree-eating,” where they would sustain a diet of nuts, bark, and roots to eliminate all the fat from their body. 

Once they achieved the physique of a reverse-sumo, they would drink tea made from the toxic sap of the lacquer tree in order to essentially embalm themselves. Finally, they’d slowly reduce their water intake and ultimately be buried alive while chanting Buddhist prayers. The entire process took about 3,000 days, but if all went right, after three years and three months, the grave would be opened to reveal a Living Buddha with perfectly preserved skin, hair, and teeth. There are between 18 and 24 sokushinbutsu around Japan, with the most famous one residing in Dainichibo Temple on Mt. Yudono.

The Dainichibo Temple is home to Shinnyokai-shonin, a self-mummified “eternal monk” who turned himself into a Sekiro enemy because he really, really wanted to help people. Shinnyokai-shonin monk-ed up when Japan was experiencing severe famine, and he thought that if he leveled up to Buddha status, he could do something about it. That’s just the sort of nice guy he was. Or still is, technically. One story about him says that he once removed his own eye to help cure an eye infection epidemic spreading in a nearby village. And who knows, maybe without his help, the world would be even crapsackier than it is now. If you’re ever at the Dainichibo Temple, you can see and thank Shinnyokai-shonin yourself, as he’s on full display over there.

Kaplica Czaszek: Poland’s Skull Chapel of Misery

It’s weird how different countries and cultures tend to have the same things, only with small yet notable differences. It’s like how Poland apparently has their own version of the “Dem Bones” song, which seems to only consist of the verse “The leg bone is connected to the head bone” repeated 3,000 times, one for every set of shins-and-skull laid to rest in Kaplica Czaszek aka the Skull Chapel in the Czermna district of southwestern Poland.

Built in 1776, the ossuary looks perfectly innocent and quaint on the outside. But once you open the door, bam, you’re in the middle of a calcium supplement commercial designed by Rob Zombie. The interior of the chapel is decorated with leg bones and skulls of 3,000 people, and to make sure that some kind of gate eventually opens in this part of Poland, the bones of the Kaplica Czaszek were sourced exclusively from people who died in wars, plagues, or from hunger. Their motto apparently was: “If you died screaming, we want you on the ceiling.” 

The chapel actually contains more bones than just the ones you’d need to construct Tim Burton’s take on Pacman. Besides the shins and skulls on display, there are additional bones of 21,000 people hidden beneath the chapel.

On the altar, the chapel’s designer, Bohemian priest Vaclav Tomasek, placed some of his favorite special bones, including a skull with a bullet hole, a skull deformed by a disease, and the bones allegedly belonging to a giant. Also, one of the Latin inscriptions on the altar reads “Arise from the Dead,” and it’s at this moment that regular, sensible people would at least briefly entertain the thought that the chapel is actually a level from an indie horror survival game that came to life after the developer accidentally bled on their computer while it was hit by lightning.

Saqqara: The Tomb Of 8,000,000 Dog Mummies

Look, fair warning. If you own a dog, you may want to skip this entry because reading it will probably make you want to hug your pooch hard enough to pop it like a big blood balloon.

Dating back to the 4th century BC, the canine mummy necropolis in Saqqara (south of Cairo) was part of an ancient Egyptian temple dedicated to Anubis, the god of death, which was discovered as far back as the 19th century. And yet, almost no real research was done on it at the time. We’ll assume that the leader of the archeological expedition that discovered it went: “Look, chaps, this is a massive complex of underground tunnels dedicated to the god of death and filled with corpses of ritually-killed animals. I know that none of us have seen a horror movie because those haven’t been invented yet, but even we should be smart enough to stay away from this. All in agreement? Great, let’s break for tea and see if we can find a boulder to block the entrance to this place.”

It’s estimated that at one point, the Saqqara tomb was home to over 8 million mummified or otherwise sacrificed dogs and puppies. Most of them have disintegrated due to the passage of time and the work of graverobbers who are 100% not going to Heaven. But those animal remains that, um, remained tell a sad story about the occupants of the tomb, like how some of them were only a few hours old when they were sacrificed to Anubis. This suggests that alongside a mass dog grave, the necropolis was also a puppy mill for breeding sacrificial animals that, sadly, weren’t killed quickly. Evidence suggests that a lot of the dead puppies died of starvation and dehydration. Only then were they offered to the god of death, presumably so that his tears would keep replenishing the river Nile.

Besides dogs, the necropolis also houses the remains of foxes, cats, falcons, mongooses, and more… including an ancient sea monster. The ceiling of the catacombs actually contains the fossil of a marine vertebrate that lived over 48 million years ago. It’s unclear if the workers who dug the death tunnels discovered it on accident or if they were called to it by a voice in their heads telling them exactly where to dig. And, later, to take their pickaxes and shovels and start excavating each other’s heads.

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Thumbnail: Wiki Commons/CC-BY-SA-2.5, Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Poland/CC-BY-ND-2.0

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