Vampire Graveyards a Common Occurrence in Eastern Europe

by M-Gillies
Dracula movie posters with Bela Lugosi

Up until “Dracula”, starring Bela Lugosi was released in 1931, North Americans had little knowledge of vampires unlike their counterparts in Eastern European countries who had heard the legends for hundreds of years.

For years, the notion of vampirism has long existed within many cultures. With the word appearing in French and German literature in the early 17th century, vampirism’s roots can be traced as far back as the Mesopotamian, Hebrew, Ancient Greek and Roman cultures where vampires were painted as demons and spirits, making these mythical creatures the precursor to the modern vampire that we know.

While vampirism first saw its popularity in Bram Stoker’s Dracula, it was in Eastern Europe where the legends and folklore first took prominence. From Russia to Bulgaria, Serbia to Poland, the Slavic people have been long associated with the mythologies behind vampires as a result of conflict between pre-Christian paganism and Christianity during the 9th century.

As Christianity became more prominent, they maintained and incorporated many pagan beliefs, including those of vampires. Amongst these beliefs were the causes of vampirism, which included being born with a caul, teeth or tail, being conceived on certain days, having an irregular death, excommunication or an improper burial ritual.

As a preventative measure against vampires, it was believed placing a crucifix in the coffin, or blocks under the chin would prevent the body from eating the shroud they were buried in. Some beliefs even stipulated clothing be nailed to the coffin walls, or millet or poppy seeds be placed in the grave because vampires had a fascination with counting. Other beliefs included piercing the body with thorns or stakes or even iron spikes to prevent them from arising.

Though these superstitions may seem precautionary, it came as a fear that the sudden deaths of cattle, sheep, relatives or neighbors were the result of a supernatural presence. If bodies were exhumed and found to have a lifelike state (due to new growth of fingernails or hair), or if the body appeared swollen, had blood on the mouth, or had a ruddy complexion, it was an indication the body was vampiric.

With such a rich history in culture, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that on July 28, 2013; researchers stumbled across 17 skeletons buried with their skulls severed and placed between their knees or hands at a highway construction site near Gliwice, Poland.

But while this discovery may be shocking to date, it isn’t the first time the vampire burial grounds have been found. In fact some other locations include:

Prostejov, Slovakia – It was discovered in 1991 by an archaeological investigation that the ancient church of the Holy Trinity in Prostejov had its own burial crypt. But while this is not uncommon for many churches, what was baffling to archaeologists was the discovery of a buried coffin reinforced with iron bars. Upon further inspection, they soon discovered stones had been placed on the body’s legs, while its torso had been severed from the legs. This discovery has been dated to the sixteenth century, with a belief that having been buried in the church had kept the corpse at bay.

Drawsko, Poland – It was in 2009 when an archaeological investigation of a medieval cemetery discovered the graves of three corpses whose bodies met with very unusual post-mortem treatment. Placed on the throats of the two adult bodies where iron sickles, while the third body, a younger adult had been tied up with a heavy stone placed upon his throat.

Lesbos, Greece – In 1994, near the city of Mytilene, on the Greek island of Lesbos, an archaeologist’s investigation discovered a skeleton buried in a crypt hollowed out of an ancient city wall. While this wasn’t peculiar enough to warrant it an unusual discovery, it was however, the post-mortem treatment of the body, which saw the corpse nailed down in the grave with heavy iron spikes driven through the neck, pelvis and ankle.

Celakovice, Czech Republic – During the early 90s, archaeologists found what they believed to be the first vampire’s graveyard. That is to say, this was an entire cemetery of vampire burials. With graves dating as far back as the 11th and 12th century, most of the corpses appeared to be young adults of both gender with metal spikes driven through their bodies and heavy stones placed upon them.

Sozopol, Bulgaria – While Bulgaria is perhaps best known for its production of wine, it is also the home of the most vampire burials, with more than 100 discoveries occurring in the last century alone. However, while the bulk of these burials are mostly found in the rural areas, it is Sozopol, the most popular Black Sea tourist resort that caused some sensation when two skeletons believed to be about 700 years old, were discovered with iron spikes piercing their bodies, buried near a former monastery.

Venice, Italy – While Eastern Europe has long been known as the heartland of vampire mythology, it wasn’t until recently that a vampire burial was discovered in Western Europe. During an archaeological examination of medieval cemeteries in 2006, archaeologists discovered the skeletal remains of woman dating from the 16th century with a large brick placed into her mouth prior to burial, to prevent from chewing her way out of her burial shrouds.

Currently, most archaeologist now believe that the lore of vampires arose from the common misunderstanding about diseases such as tuberculosis combined with the lack of knowledge about the process of decomposition.

Though 19th century Americans and Europeans were familiar with the changes that occurred to the body immediately after death, they weren’t familiar with the process of how rigor mortis eventually disappears, giving the body more flexible limbs, or that the gastrointestinal tract begins to decay, producing a dark fluid that can easily be mistaken for fresh blood during exhumation.

However, it is the ritualistic disposal of the bodies that highly suggests to many that the graves belong to suspected vampires in a region where vampire graves are not uncommon.

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