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article imageMedieval 'vampire' skeletons unearthed in Bulgaria

By JohnThomas Didymus     Jun 6, 2012 in Science
Archaeologists say they have found two medieval remains of the dead pinned down to their graves through the chests with iron rods, a practice widely used in Europe up until the first decade of the 20th century to stop the dead from becoming vampires.
Fox News reports that Bozhidar Dimitrov, head of the National History Museum in the Bulgarian capital of Sofia, said that the two skeletons from the Middle Ages were found last week near the Black Sea town of Sozopol. According to Daily Mail, the skeletons, believed to be about 800 years old, were discovered near a monastery.
Fox News reports Dimitrov said on Tuesday that corpses were commonly treated in that way in some parts of Bulgaria until early in the last century. BBC reports that Dimitrov said: "These skeletons stabbed with rods illustrate a practice which was common in some Bulgarian villages up until the first decade of the 20th Century."
According to the archaeologists, iron rods were hammered through the chest bones and hearts of persons where were believed evil in their lifetimes, to prevent them returning from the dead to feed on the blood of the living. Pinning the corpses of "evil" persons to their graves prevented them from rising up at midnight to terrorize the living.
Dimitrov said over 100 corpses nailed through the chest to prevent them transforming into vampires have been discovered in Balkan countries over the years. He said: "I do not know why an ordinary discovery like that [has] became so popular. Perhaps because of the mysteriousness of the word 'vampire.'"
Vampire folklore are popular in the Balkan region. The most famous of vampire legends of Balkan origins is the legend of the Romanian count Vlad III, Prince of Wallachica (1431-1476), nicknamed the Impaler, but best known by his patronymic name Dracula. BBC reports that stories of the cruelty of Dracula, who spent most of his reign campaigning against the rising power of the Ottoman Empire, inspired the Gothic horror novel Dracula, first published in 1897.
BBC reports that archaeologist Petar Balabonov discovered six nailed-down skeletons at a site close to the town of Debelt in eastern Bulgaria. According to historians, the practice was also popular in neighboring Serbia and other Balkan countries.
Daily Mail reports Dimitrov said "vampires" were often aristocrats and clerics who had been notorious during their lives. Dimitrov also noted that "The curious thing is that there are no women among them.They were not afraid of witches."
However, Italian researchers discovered a female "vampire" in Venice last month. The skeleton was found in a mass grave from the Venetian plague of 1576. She was buried with a brick jammed between her jaws to prevent her feeding on victims of a plague that swept through the city in the 16th century, Daily Mail reports.
According to Matteo Borrini, anthropologist at the University of Florence, the female "vampire" was discovered in the island of Lazzaretto Nuovo in the Venice lagoon, and may indicate the medieval belief that vampires and witches caused plague because of their need for a constant supply of human blood refreshment.
Daily Mail reports Borrini said: "This is the first time that archaeology has succeeded in reconstructing the ritual of exorcism of a vampire. This helps... authenticate how the myth of vampires was born."
Daily Mail reports that historians say that belief in vampires spread in Europe during the series of plagues that ravaged Europe between 1300 and 1700. Gravediggers who reopened mass graves were sometimes confronted with the ghoulish sight of bodies with intact hair, bloated with gas, and with bacteria infested gaping mouths from which blood still seeped. They thought these corpses were still alive and that they represented a class of the dead that were feeding on the blood of the living. These corpses were often referred to as "shroud eaters" because the shrouds used to cover the face of the dead at burial were often decayed by bacteria in the corpses' mouth.
The corpses were believed to feed on the living so that they can gain strength to return to prowl the streets and terrorize the living.
Daily Mail reports that to stop such "undead" from continuing to feed on the living by spreading plagues, the shrouds were removed and replaced with something "uneatable." For some gravediggers, bricks were the obvious choice.
Daily Mail reports Morrini said: "To kill the vampire you had to remove the shroud from its mouth, which was its food like the milk of a child, and put something uneatable in there. It's possible that other corpses have been found with bricks in their mouths, but this is the first time the ritual has been recognized."
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