'Vampire' Graves Shed Light on Fear of Undead Nov 30, 2014 2:45:32 GMT -5
Post by Joanna on Nov 30, 2014 2:45:32 GMT -5
'Vampire' graves shed light on fear of the undead
Six people given a vampire's burial more than 200 years ago have been discovered in a Polish graveyard, some barricaded in the earth with sharp sickles, some weighted by stones on their necks, possibly to keep them from chewing through their burial shrouds.
Not one of the six is a seductive gentleman in evening dress. The Polish "vampires" include a toothless middle-aged woman and a child of unknown gender who is as young as 12. There's also a maiden in her late teens, a crown of braids still atop her head.
In the 21st century, the vampire has been sanitized as a dapper Transylvanian count or one of the smoldering hunks of The Vampire Chronicles. But "that's not what this is," says bioarchaeologist Tracy Betsinger of SUNY College at Oneonta, a co-author of two new studies of the burials. "They're not ... pretty and sexy and charismatic. These are evil spirits that reanimate a corpse."
Other researchers, however, are cautious about branding the graves’ occupants vampires. Vampires sparked genuine fear and terror in the 17th and 18th centuries when the Polish cemetery was in use. The time the Polish corpses were buried is unknown, but the cemetery is believed to date back at least two centuries.
Vampires, it was believed, didn't just suck blood, but also spread illness and death could strike someone who merely happened to look at a member of the "walking dead."
The people of Drawsko, the farming village near the cemetery, seem to have taken such threats to heart. Many non-vampire graves at Drawsko contain coins, which were thought to protect against evil spirits. The coin was often concealed in the skeleton's mouth, partly to keep an evil spirit from entering the mouth.
Then there were the "vampires" themselves, discovered beginning in 2008. As researchers unearthed one skeleton, "the rusty red color began to darken around the pelvis in a distinct crescent-moon shape," Betsinger's colleague Amy Scott of the University of Manitoba recalls via email. They'd found a "vampire" with a sickle (above) curving around her abdomen and a large rock on her neck, "like nothing I had ever seen before," Scott says.
The six people interred as vampires were probably regarded as vampires-in-waiting – liable to spring out of the grave after burial – rather than full-fledged vampires that had already risen from the dead, Betsinger says. But why were these six singled out? An examination of the skeletons found no signs of trauma or disease that could have aroused suspicions, the researchers report in the latest issue of the Cambridge Archaeological Journal. Perhaps the "vampires" were immigrants whose foreignness made them suspect. But the make-up of the vampires' teeth suggests they grew up in the area, according to University of South Alabama bioarchaeologist Lesley Gregoricka, the leader of the tooth analysis, published in the journal PLoS ONE.
The findings lend credence to the idea those who flouted rules drew suspicion as potential vampires. Perhaps the dead had committed suicide or had been born out of wedlock. Perhaps they were the first to die in an epidemic. Cholera devastated Poland during the 17th and 18th centuries and an epidemic's earliest victims were sometimes regarded as vampire fodder. "Today we might find it silly to believe in vampires," Gregoricka says. But "before scientific understanding of contagion ... vampires were perceived as a very real threat and represented one way of explaining the unexplainable."
Other researchers contend it's difficult to be certain the graves belonged to vampires. It's "feasible" the sickles represent an anti-vampire measure, says University of Manchester archaeologist Stephen Gordon, who studies the walking dead of Britain. But "it's difficult to be absolute." More compelling, he says, are "vampire" graves in various parts of Europe where iron stakes have been driven through the rib cage. In other burials, he notes the head has been severed and placed between the legs.
"In my opinion we should be very careful," agrees Polish-burials expert Leszek Gardela of the Institute of Archaeology at Poland's University of Rzeszow via email. "There may have been many reasons for burying the dead in unusual ways" – such as suicide or criminal behavior.
Betsinger agrees the six people who were the recipients of unusual burials at Drawsko may have been criminals, suicides or others who violated society's rule, but adds, "Why would individuals who were criminals or suicides need a sickle across the throat if it wasn't to prevent reanimation?" She indicates "vampire" burials with sickles have been found in Romania, Bulgaria and other countries and notes that stakes through the rib cage were deployed against those who had already risen from the dead, not vampire candidates like those at Drawsko. "Do I actually believe that the dead come back? No," Betsinger says. But the villagers near the vampires' cemetery "very much believed in the reality of vampires. ... [The graves] tell you how seriously this was taken."
Source: Traci Watson, USA Today, November 29, 2014.