The Ill and the Impaired in Early Medieval (10th-13th century) Poland. A case study of the sites from Kałdus (Kuyavian-Pomeranian voivodship).

I am a principal investigator in the project “The Ill and the Impaired in Early Medieval (10th-13th century) Poland. A case study of the sites from Kałdus (Kuyavian-Pomeranian voivodship)” which is based at the Department of Anthropology, Nicolaus Copernicus University in Toruń (Poland). The project is funded by the National Science Centre, Poland.


The main aim of the project is to interpret social rank and burial customs of the ill and the disabled people in early medieval (10th-13th century) Poland on the example of sites from Kałdus (Kuyavian-Pomeranian voivodeship). The project aims to interpret both published and unpublished osteological, archaeological, palynological and zooarchaeological data.

Two hypotheses connected with the social status of the ill and disabled would be testified. First of them assumes that the ill and disabled of a higher social status could have survived longer because of material goods, which in turn caused a longer duration of their illnesses, whereas the ill from lower social ranks could have died more quickly just at the beginning of their illness. The second hypothesis assumes that the ill and the disabled persons could have been ostracised in the society because of their ailments and, because of that, moved to a lower social layer.

The next aim is to present if people who were buried in atypical way could have been disabled and if that had any influence on such a way of burial.

Another aim is to reconstruct the ways of treating of the ill, the perception of medicine, medical surgeries that might be identified on the bones (amputation, threpanations), different pollen taxons of plants and different species of animals as medicaments, and the emotions towards a different setting of the burials of the ill and the disabled on cemeteries. This project will also present biographies of the ill and the disabled contrasted with the early medieval society in Poland.  


Within the project, a quantitative and a qualitative analysis will be lead. The quantitative analysis will be conducted with using statistical tools in the program Statistical Package for the Social Sciences (SPPS) and spatial tools in the program Quantum Geographic Information System (QGIS), which will result in a presentation of a reliance between different analytical categories. Palynological and zooarchaeological data will be compared with ethnographic sources with an aim to recognise which plants could have been used in medieval herbalism and which animals could have been used for medical treatment. The qualitative research will show individual biographies of the ill contrasted with the society. This shows that the aims and methods of this project are of biohumanistic nature.




  • Nicolaus Copernicus University, Faculty of Biology and Environmental Protection, Lecture for General University Audience, Toruń, Poland, 21 November 2017                                                                                                                                                        paper: Życie i śmierć osób niepełnosprawnych we wczesnośredniowiecznej Polsce. Studium przypadku z Kałdusa
  • 85th Annual Meeting of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists, Atlanta, Georgia, USA, 15 April 2016
    poster: The Diseased, the Disabled and Vampires in Early Medieval Culmen in Poland, with Tomasz Kozłowski
  • 43rd Annual North American Meeting of the Paleopathology Association, Atlanta, Georgia, USA, 13 April 2016
    paper: The Social Status of the Diseased and the Disabled in Early Medieval Culmine in Poland, with Tomasz Kozłowski
  • XXIV Sympozjum Historii Farmacji “Historia panaceum. Między marzeniem a oszustwem”. Zespół Sekcji Historii Farmacji Polskiego Towarzystwa Farmaceutycznego, Collegium Medicum im. Ludwika Rydgiera w Bydgoszczy Uniwersytetu Mikołaja Kopernika w Toruniu, 28 May 2015
    paper: Środki lecznicze we wczesnośredniowiecznym Culmine
  • 80th Annual Meeting of Society for American Archaeology in San Francisco, USA, 15-19 April 2015
    paper: Osteobiographies of Two Peculiar Women from Early Medieval Poland, with Tomasz Kozłowski


All relevant publications associated with the project are listed here. 


  • Matczak M. D., Kozłowski T., Chudziak W., “The social status of the disabled and diseased in early medieval Culmen in Poland”. International Journal of Paleopathology (in preparation)
  • Matczak M. D., Kozłowski T., Chudziak W. (2021). “A Multidisciplinary Study of Anti-Vampire Burials from Early Medieval Culmen, Poland: Were the Diseased and Disabled Regarded as Vampires?”. Archaeologia Historica Polona 29, 219-252.
  • Matczak M. D., Chudziak W. (2018). “Medical Therapeutics and the Place of Healing in Early Medieval Culmen in Poland“. World Archaeology 50(3), 434-460. DOI: 10.1080/00438243.2018.1516565.
  • Matczak M. D., Wołoszyn J., Kozłowski T. (2015). “Strach i lęk jako kategorie badawcze w archeologii”. Przegląd Historyczny 106(4), 633-656. 

Book chapters:

  • Matczak M. D., Kozłowski T. (2017). “Dealing with difference: using the osteobiographies of a woman with leprosy and a woman with gigantism from medieval Poland to identify practices of care” [in:] New Developments in the Bioarchaeology of Care: Further Case Studies and Extended Theory, ed. by L. Tilley, A. Schrenk (121-151). New York: Springer. 
  • Matczak M. D. (2016). “Zmiany patologiczne i konstrukcje grobowe jako wyznaczniki statusu społecznego we wczesnośredniowiecznym Culmine” [in:] Pochówki w grobach komorowych na ziemiach polskich w okresie wczesnego średniowiecza, ed. by D. Błaszczyk (122-129). Warszawa: Instytut Archeologii Uniwersytetu Warszawskiego. 

Popular-science articles:

Project in media:

Why Medieval Europeans Drank Fossil Squid-Butt Cocktails. Forbes, December 21, 2018. 

The 10 Most Intriguing Skeletons Of 2016Forbes, December 21, 2016.

Archeolog: “gigantka” z Ostrowa Lednickiego mogła być chora psychiczniePolskie Radio, November 21, 2016.

Archeolog: “gigantka” z Ostrowa Lednickiego mogła być chora psychiczniePAP, Nauka w Polsce, November 19, 2016.

Życie odciśnięte w kościach. Tajemnice gigantki wykopanej na Ostrowie, November 12, 2016.

Skeleton Of Medieval Giantess Unearthed From Polish CemeteryForbes, October 19, 2016.

Archeolodzy w ForbesieGłos Uczelni. Czasopismo Uniwersytetu Mikołaja Kopernika 7(365), July, 2016.

Healthy ‘Vampires’ Emerge From Graves In Medieval Polish CemeteryForbes, June 1, 2016.

Public outreach:

I gave popular-science lectures for high school pupils: 

  • Three lectures about diseases, disabilities, and social perception of the diseased and disabled in medieval period at the 4th High School in Bydgoszcz (Poland) on 18th of May 2017. 
  • A lecture about bioarchaeology, diseases, and disabilities in the Middle Ages at the Poznań Archaeological Museum (Poland) on 12 October 2016. 
  • A lecture about bioarchaeology, how to identify pathological lesions and diseases on bones at the Poznań Archaeological Museum (Poland) on 25 November 2015.

Grant is provided by the National Science Centre, Poland. Grant number: UMO-2014/13/N/HS3/04602.