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The ‘undead’ haunt eastern Europe

Leo Hickman
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A skeleton dating back to the Middle Ages unearthed in Sozopol in 2012 which had an iron rod thrust through its chest.— Photo: AP
A skeleton dating back to the Middle Ages unearthed in Sozopol in 2012 which had an iron rod thrust through its chest.— Photo: AP

The world’s media have been getting their teeth into the story of a “vampire grave” uncovered last week by archaeologists at a roadside construction site in the town of Gliwice in southern Poland. When four skeletons were found with their skulls placed between their legs, speculation followed that these were suspected vampires that had been prevented from rising from the grave through the once-ritualistic local practice of decapitation.

“It’s very difficult to tell when these burials were carried out,” Dr. Jacek Pierzak, the lead archaeologist, told the Dziennik Zachodni , a Polish newspaper. Early indications, he said, suggested the grave could be dated to the 16th century. Other clues possibly suggesting a vampire burial included the skeleton’s lack of any personal items, such as jewellery. Meanwhile, other local newspaper reports noted that an alternative theory suggested they were not vampires, but victims of an execution at a known nearby gallows. Whatever the truth — The Guardian adopts a firmly sceptical position on the undead — the discovery of so-called vampire graves is not uncommon across eastern Europe. Last year, archaeologists in Bulgaria found two medieval skeletons with iron rods driven through their chest. In 2008, archaeologists found a 4,000-year-old grave in the Czech Republic in which the skeleton had been weighed down at the head and the chest by two large stones.

According to Bozhidar Dimitrov, who runs the National History Museum in Sofia, about 100 such skeletons have been uncovered in Bulgaria, with the gruesome practice known across the Balkans, where fear of vampires has been at its strongest over the centuries.

The root of the vampire legend goes right back to ancient Egypt and Greece, says Dr. Tim Beasley-Murray, a lecturer at University of College London’s School of Slavonic and east European studies who teaches on a course entitled Vampires, Society and Culture: Transylvania and Beyond. The myth, he says, then spread up through the Balkans into eastern Europe where it proved fertile during the pre-Christian era. — © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2013


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