A quaint English town could be holding onto a dark secret, with hidden bones suggesting villagers lived in fear of a zombie apocalypse.
Those in the town of Wharram Percy may have interfered with corpses to stop zombies rising from graves and terrorising the village.
Bones discovered in a pit have been dismembered and mutilated and researchers believe villagers destroyed the dead to stop them coming back.
The medieval human bones were excavated from the deserted English village, and corpses were burnt and mutilated, which suggests villagers feared they would haunt the living.
Researchers from the University of Southampton and Historic England uncovered bones in Wharram Percy, a ghost village in North Yorkshire in England's northeast.
For six decades, researchers have been trying to find clues about what life was like in the village, which was abandoned soon after 1500, and the latest find tells part of the story.
Researchers found knife marks on uncovered bones that suggest bodies of dead villagers had been decapitated and dismembered. There was also evidence of burning bodies and breaking bones once a person was dead.
"In medieval times, there was a folk-belief that corpses could rise from their graves and roam the local area, spreading disease and violently assaulting those unlucky enough to encounter them," the university said.
"Restless corpses were usually thought to be caused by a lingering malevolent life-force in individuals who had committed evil deeds or created animosity when living.
"Medieval writers describe a number of ways of dealing with revenants, one of which was to dig up the offending corpse, decapitate and dismember it, and burn the pieces in a fire."
The researchers believe bones dug up in Wharram Percy were part of bodies mutilated by villagers who were terrified zombies were rising up from the grave.
"The researchers considered other theories, but this explanation appears to be the most consistent with the alterations observed on the bones," the University of Southampton said.
Another theory emerged as researchers studied the 137 bones found in the pit, with suggestions there were signs of cannibalism.
"Famines were quite common in medieval times, so another possibility might be that the remains were of corpses that had been cannibalised by starving villagers. However, the evidence did not seem to fit. For example, in cannibalism, knife marks on bone tend to cluster around major muscle attachments or large joints, but at Wharram Percy the knife marks were not at these locations but mainly in the head and neck area," the university said.
Corpses that had been interfered with belonged to 10 people, aged between two and four years old and people above the age of 50.
On 17 bones, there are 76 marks that showed a sharp tool had cut through the corpse.
University of Southampton human skeletal biologist Simon Mays led the research in the abandoned English town.
"The idea that the Wharram Percy bones are the remains of corpses burnt and dismembered to stop them walking from their graves seems to fit the evidence best," he said.
"If we are right, then this is the first good archaeological evidence we have for this practice.
"It shows us a dark side of medieval beliefs and provides a graphic reminder of how different the medieval view of the world was from our own."