New Scientist has the news.
A SKELETON exhumed from a grave in Venice is being claimed as the first known example of the “vampires” widely referred to in contemporary documents.
Matteo Borrini of the University of Florence in Italy found the skeleton of a woman with a small brick in her mouth ….
At the time the woman died, many people believed that the plague was spread by “vampires” which, rather than drinking people’s blood, spread disease by chewing on their shrouds after dying. Grave-diggers put bricks in the mouths of suspected vampires to stop them doing this, Borrini says.
The belief in vampires probably arose because blood is sometimes expelled from the mouths of the dead, causing the shroud to sink inwards and tear. Borrini, who presented his findings at a meeting of the American Academy of Forensic Sciences in Denver, Colorado, last week, claims this might be the first such vampire to have been forensically examined. The skeleton was removed from a mass grave of victims of the Venetian plague of 1576.
However, Peer Moore-Jansen of Wichita State University in Kansas says he has found similar skeletons in Poland and that while Borrini’s finding is exciting, “claiming it as the first vampire is a little ridiculous”.
Borrini says his study details the earliest grave to show archaeological “exorcism evidence against vampires”.
I would never have thought this was a vampire, if I hadn’t been told already. It also makes me a bit interested in seeing Peer Moor-Jansen’s work. I’ll say that Borrini did an incredibly better job at making his dig exciting, if PMJ has found multiple skeletons and no one has heard about it.
I think this would be good to use for my next popular culture paper, or something else. I’ve got the vampire religion article to go with it. This has to be useful someway.
Belief in vampires was rampant in the Middle Ages, mostly because the process of decomposition was not well understood.
For instance, as the human stomach decays, it releases a dark “purge fluid.” This bloodlike liquid can flow freely from a corpse’s nose and mouth, so it was apparently sometimes confused with traces of vampire victims’ blood.
The fluid sometimes moistened the burial shroud near the corpse’s mouth enough that it sagged into the jaw, creating tears in the cloth.
Since tombs were often reopened during plagues so other victims could be added, Italian gravediggers saw these decomposing bodies with partially “eaten” shrouds, Borrini said.
from National Geographic
And this from the Scotsman:
During the Black Death period in the Middle Ages the cemetery was the final resting place for more than 1,500 corpses, and dozens of well preserved remains have been found. But the “vampire” discovery is the first of its kind at Lazzaretto Vecchio, the island used to quarantine and bury plague victims.
Dr Matteo Borrini, an anthropological archaeologist of Florence University, said the woman’s skull had been impaled through the mouth with a brick – a traditional method of ensuring the “undead” could no longer feed. Dr Borrini said there was a widespread belief that the plague was spread by female vampires.
But CNET has a far more chatty, and popular culture approach, along with an explanation for a line in other articles.
Oh, what would Buffy say to this? They’ve finally dug up a vampire.
[When PMJ says he found a lot in Poland.] Ah, countered Dr. Borrini, but this is the first time we have seen “exorcism evidence against vampires.”
So there we have it. I blame the early Van Helsing family myself. I believe they performed a large number of these mouth-brickings for many centuries before they decided that a stake through the heart was far more commercial.
Buffy references abound when you go looking for them (which I did).
Metro UK wrote:
It’s not quite in the vein of a Buffy the Vampire Slayer sacrifice.
Those trying to save us from evil bloodsuckers 500 years ago didn’t rely on a stake through the heart – they used a humble brick.
Or we can have the same story with a riff on “The Lady is a Tramp” by the title The Lady is a Vamp from Mirror UK.
The body of a “vampire” from 500 years ago has been found with a stake through her mouth.
The gruesome discovery was made at a burial ground for victims of the Black Death in Venice.
Experts say people thought putting a stake through a skull stopped vampires in their tracks.