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article imagePoland archaeologists unearth ancient 'Vampire Grave'

By Eko Armunanto     Jul 14, 2013 in Science
Archaeologists found skeletons with their heads removed and placed on their legs, indicating they had been subjected to an execution ritual designed to ensure the dead stayed dead. Vampires in the Middle Ages were defined more broadly than Bram Stoker’s
Reporting from Warsaw for the Telegraph July 11, Matthew Day said the remains were found on the construction site of a ring road near the town of Gliwice, and came as a surprise to archaeologists more accustomed to finding the human detritus of the bloody fighting of the Second World War. The skeletons were found with no jewelry, belt buckles, buttons or anything that could aid the task of determining their age, according to Dr. Jacek Pierzak, one of the archaeologists on the site.
The history of vampirism, the belief in vampires, stems from superstition and mistaken assumptions about post-mortem decay. The first recorded accounts of vampires follow a consistent pattern: Some unexplained misfortune would befall a person, family, or town — perhaps a drought dried up crops, or an infectious disease struck. Before science could explain weather patterns and germ theory, any bad event for which there was not an obvious cause might be blamed on a vampire. Vampires were one easy answer to the age-old question of why bad things happen to good people. Unlike the classic Bram Stoker image of a caped, blood-sucking aristocrat, the definition of a vampire in the Middle Ages was far broader. Even people who abided by old pagan customs and left food on the graves of dead relatives could fall foul of accusations of vampirism, and suffer a prompt execution.
Sometimes, those accused of being vampires were simply decapitated, while others would be hung from a gibbet — a gallows of sorts — until the head separated from the body. Then, the heads were placed on the legs to deter the so-called “creatures of the night” from rising from their graves.
In his book "Vampires, Burial, and Death: Folklore and Reality," folklorist Paul Barber noted that centuries ago, "Often potential revenants can be identified at birth, usually by some abnormality, some defect, as when a child is born with teeth. Similarly suspicious are children born with an extra nipple in Romania, with a lack of cartilage in the nose, or a split lower lip in Russia. When a child is born with a red caul, or amniotic membrane, covering its head, this was regarded throughout much of Europe as presumptive evidence that it is destined to return from the dead." Such minor deformities were looked upon as evil omens, and it is likely that many infants were killed immediately when these signs were discovered; those who survived grew up bearing the burden of public suspicion.
The piece of membrane that can cover a newborn's head and face is rare, occurring in less than 1 in 80,000 births. The caul is harmless and is immediately removed by the physician or midwife upon delivery of the child. A child born with the caul has a portion of a birth membrane remaining on the head.
“Historians say that the practice was common in the Slavic lands during the decades following the adoption of Christianity by pagan tribes," Matthew wrote. "Anybody accused of being a vampire in the distant past faced a grim fate,”
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