Archaeologists unearth the remains of a 17th century ‘vampire’

Archaeologists unearth the remains of a 17th century 'vampire'

Folklore is replete with various advice on how to prevent a recently deceased person from turning into a vampire to prey on the living. Recently, archaeologists came across an unusual example of such a burial in a 17th-century Polish cemetery.

Stories of vampire-like creatures date back at least 4,000 years to ancient Mesopotamia. However, it was not until the 1700s that some English accounts made specific reference to these undead. From this time until the 19th century, alleged epidemics of vampirism indeed caused several mass hysterias in Europe.

Naturally, the fear aroused by the presumed existence of these vampires has inspired various means to prevent these creatures from returning to haunt the living. In the early Middle Ages, Russian villagers, for example, exhumed suspicious corpses and destroyed the body by cremation, decapitation or by driving a wooden stake into the heart.

In Germany and the West Slavic regions, suspected vampires were also beheaded. The head was then buried between the feet of the deceased or away from their bodies. Other strategies also included cutting tendons from the knees or burying corpses on their stomachs so that if a vampire were to wake up, they could only gnaw through the ground.

A sickle and a padlock

More recently, a team of archaeologists led by Dariusz Poliński from Nicholas Copernicus University came across a new example of suspected vampirism in Poland. The cemetery, which dates from the 17th century, is located in the village of Pień. On the spot, the researchers exhumed the skeleton of a woman. A sickle was placed on his neck and a padlock was placed on the big toe of his left foot..

Although there have been reports of people placing scythes or sickles near a grave as an offering to keep demons from entering the body, the placement of this tool on this female vampire’s neck seemed to mean something else.

The sickle seems indeed to have been placed in such a way that if the deceased had tried to get up, the head would have very probably been cut or injured“, explains Dariusz Poliński. ” As for the padlock on the big toe, it probably marks the impossibility of returning to the world of the living”.

Credits: Mirosław Blicharski/Aleksander Pozna

A woman of high social rank

Another unusual feature is that the skeleton appears to be that of a high-ranking woman, evidenced by the care with which she was buried and the presence of a silk cap on her head. As to why she would have been buried in this way, the archaeologist can only speculate. According to him, this woman had highly visible protruding front teeth. This might have made her appearance different enough that she was considered a vampire by superstitious locals.

Note that other examples of anti-vampire burials have been found in Poland. Several years ago, archaeologists notably came across a body with a brick forced into its mouth and several holes drilled into its legs. Several skeletons with severed heads were also discovered in the 2000s.

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