Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Middle age vampires!

The deciding factor in what to blog about today is the poorly-worded translation in a Bulgarian newspaper about medieval skeletons unearthed with signs of superstition. Indications are that they were considered vampires (the closest Bulgarian word I could find is undead: немъртви). An excavation in Venice in 2009 revealed similar signs. Details are below:

Stakes in their hearts
The 700-year-old remains of 2 men were found stabbed through the chest with iron rods (1st image, another photo here) during excavation of a monastery near Sozopol, Bulgaria. "This was a pagan belief widespread in the Bulgarian lands in the 12th to 14th centuries. People were very superstitious then. Throughout the country we have found over 100 such 'vampire' burials of mainly noblemen from the middle ages who were branded bloodsucking immortals," said Bozhidar Dimitrov, head of the National History Museum. Such people were considered evil during their lifetime and could continue to torment the living unless they were pinned to their graves. A 3rd centuries-old skeleton has also been found in Veliko Tarnovo, Bulgaria, tied to the ground with four iron clamps. "This man is not a vampire but was subjected to this pagan superstition-driven ritual to prevent him from becoming one after his death," explained archaeologist Nikolay Ovcharov. Due to international interest, the Sozopol "vampire skeletons" will be displayed at the museum. Dimitrov commented, "I do not know why an ordinary discovery like that became so popular. Perhaps because of the mysteriousness of the word 'vampire'."

Bricks in their mouths
The remains of thousands dating from 700 to 1400AD have been unearthed between 2005 and 2009 in Kilteasheen, Ireland. Two of 137 skeletons excavated so far have been found with large stones wedged into their mouths (2nd image), probably intended to prevent them from rising from the dead. The "deviant burials," a 40-60-year-old adult male and a young adult aged 20-30, were buried side by side at different times in the 8th c. "One of them was lying with his head looking straight up. A large black stone had been deliberately thrust into his mouth. The other had his head turned to the side and had an even larger stone wedged quite violently into his mouth so that his jaws were almost dislocated," said lead archeologist Chris Read from the Institute of Technology in Sligo. The ritual slayings may have been to prevent men who were feared or hated from becoming revenants. The mouth was the portal through which the soul left - and therefore could return to - the body after death.

The well-preserved skeleton of a 60-year-old female is one of more than 100 found in 2006 on the Lazzaretto Nuovo island, north of Venice. She had been buried in a mass grave during an outbreak of plague in 16th c. Italy, but a brick had been forced into her mouth (photo here) when the grave was reopened to dispose of more victims. The brick may have been used to starve to death a body that appeared well-fed, but was actually decomposing and bloated. To further fuel their fears, a hole caused naturally by bacteria found in the mouth area, may have identified her as a "shroud-eater," a vampire who fed on the cloth and spread the Black Death. "For the first time we have found evidence of an exorcism against a vampire," declares Matteo Borrini, a forensic archaeologist and anthropologist at Florence University.

Thanks to Jill and Val for inciting this post!
Previous posts about vampires:

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