Recent excavations of medieval church burial grounds in parts of Ireland have, apparently, unearthed human remains with large stones forcibly inserted in subjects’ mouths, “something researchers believe locals did to stop the dead from returning to walk the Earth as zombies.” Between 2005 and 2009, the story goes, archeological surveyors “stumbled upon” more than 120 skeletons dating from the 7th to 14th centuries, at least two of which displayed the alleged anti-Zombification technologies. These two were males, “one aged between 40 and 60 and the other a young adult probably in his twenties,” placed side-by-side among the other remains, “one…lying with his head looking straight up. A large black stone had been deliberately thrust into his mouth. The other had his head turned to the side and had an even larger stone wedged quite violently into his mouth so that his jaws were almost dislocated.”
What I find curious about this discussion is not that the comparative category zombie is deployed in a manner that disappoints, but that time is taken to complicate the category nonetheless, explaining (in a segregated block of text) that, “belief that zombies can return from the grave as living dead has its roots in Haitian culture….” If only the author had placed these two discourses in conversation with one another. We could then see what the comparative construct zombie illuminates and obscures, and how it shifts and broadens, as it is applied to new a context. While it is perhaps unreasonable to expect that journalists adhere to the standards of well-trained comparativists, paying attention to the ways in which popular discourse (like the archeologists discussed above) “stumbles upon” interesting points of possible comparison can prove helpful in thinking about our own work, which will inevitably involve comparisons of some sort.