Polish 'Vampire Burials' Explained Jul 13, 2015 19:44:58 GMT -5
Post by Joanna on Jul 13, 2015 19:44:58 GMT -5
Polish 'Vampire Burials' Explained
The mystery behind several "vampire" burials in Poland has been solved. People who were buried with sickles (above) around their necks, or rocks at their jaws, to prevent reanimation were native to the area in which they were buried, according to a new study. The fact all those buried as vampires were local suggests they may have been felled by a cholera epidemic that swept through the region, said study co-author Lesley Gregoricka, a bioarchaeologist at the University of South Alabama.
Tales of vampires. Tales of the dead coming back to life have truly ancient roots, going back to the ancient Egyptians, Greeks, Babylonians and beyond, said study co-author Tracy Betsinger, a bioarchaeologist at the State University of New York at Oneonta. For all these stories of the dead coming back to life, "the word collectively used is a 'revenance,'" Betsinger told Live Science.
Tales of vampires have circulated in Eastern Europe since at least the 11th century and newspaper accounts have described alleged vampires since the 17th century. For instance, in 1725, an Austrian official recounted the story of Serbian peasant Petar Blagojevic, who was said to have killed nine villagers in his area before people staked him through his heart. Vampire lore at this time didn't require blood sucking as an integral feature; instead, the undead could slay living people with nothing more than a glance. In ancient lore, a person was at risk of becoming a vampire after death if he or she was unbaptized, died a violent death, was the first one to die in an epidemic or was an outsider from another local, Gregoricka explained.
Notions that vampires drank blood may have arisen during plagues and epidemics, when corpses would often lie exposed and decomposing for long periods of time. "People were up close and personal with death at this point, but didn't have a good way to explain what was happening," Gregoricka said. For instance, the body tends to bloat after death from bacterial-produced gases. This pressure in the lower body, in turn, forces blood up from the lungs, into the esophagus and then through the mouth, which may have led villagers to believe the corpse of a person who was waiflike and frail during life was fat from feasting on blood, she added.
Vampire burial. Gregoricka and her colleagues analyzed bone fragments from the Drawsko cemetery, a Polish site where vampire burials were discovered. The cemetery dates from the 17th to the 18th century, the researchers said. Some at the site were buried with sickles under their necks or rocks under their jaws, to prevent reanimation. (The sickles were intended to decapitate the person if he/she attempted to rise from the grave, while the rocks pinned their jaws shut so they weren't able to feed on the living, Gregoricka related.)
The researchers then took a closer look at 60 of the 333 burials from the site, six of which were "vampire" burials intended to prevent reanimation of a corpse. The team analyzed the ratio of strontium isotopes (versions of the atom with different numbers of neutrons) in the skeletons. Because each location has a unique ratio of these isotopes, and people's bodies naturally take on elements from the environment, analyzing strontium isotope ratios can reveal a person’s origin. Contrary to the initial hypothesis that the "vampires" were immigrants, the team actually discovered all of the vampires were locals.
Because none of the "vampires" showed signs of a violent death or severe trauma, the team speculates the vampires were perhaps the first felled in one of the cholera epidemics that swept the area during that time. People could die of cholera in days or even hours, Gregoricka revealed. "If something kills you very quickly, it's not going to leave a mark on the bone," she added.
As a follow-up, the researchers want to conduct additional chemical analyses to see if they can learn more about these villagers. The findings were published today in the journal PLOS One.
Source: Tia Ghose, LiveScience, November 26, 2014.