The discovery of a 700-year-old skeleton in Bulgaria—seen at the country's National Museum of History in June—offers evidence that the fear of vampires is far older than Bram Stoker's Dracula.
The "vampire" was found entombed among church ruins in the Black Sea town of Sozopol (map) earlier in the month. The skeleton had been stabbed in the chest with an iron rod (upper right), which was in the tomb next to the body.
In addition, the skeleton's teeth had been pulled. Scholars believe the rod and tooth-pulling were techniques villagers used to prevent dead men from turning into vampires.
The vampire obsession dates back millennia in countries across Europe.
"In graves thousands of years old, skeletons have been found staked, tied up, buried facedown, decapitated ... all well-attested ways of preempting the [attacks] of wandering corpses," wrote former National Geographic historian Mark Collins Jenkins in his book Vampire Forensics.
In addition, Vampire Forensics author Jenkins wrote, dead souls cut off in their prime might be prone to becoming vampires due to their bitterness towards those still alive. The recently dead, "No matter who they are, they are often conceived as resentful, aggressive, and willing to use their newly enhanced powers against the living."
"In the past the decomposition process was not well known," Borrini said by e-mail. "So when a corpse was discovered with the monstrous changes of decomposition, the legendary figure of the vampire was created."
Photograph from AP
A monastery looms over the church ruins where two so-called vampire skeletons were excavated this summer in the Black Sea town of Sozopol.
The perpetual fear of corpses turning into vampires was widespread in Bulgaria in the 12th to 14th centuries, when the uncovered skeletons from this site were put to rest, according to Reuters.
The belief in vampires gained momentum, and Borrini said the idea was widely supported by the end of the 17th century before spreading out.
Photograph courtesy National Museum of History, Bulgaria
Showing Some Spine
Archaeologist Kalina Kostadincheva dusts off one of the skeletons from the excavation site.
While Bulgarians at the time had their own specific beliefs and rituals for dealing with suspected vampires, Borrini said, the Bulgarian vampire of the era did not differ widely from other conceptions across Europe.
"The background was usually the same in all eastern Europe," Borrini said. "The vampire was the same, and only some small differences could be in the way in which it attacked humans and the exorcism useful to stop him."
An archaeologist studies a skeleton found at another Sozopol excavation site along the Black Sea.
Although belief in vampires began to die out in Bulgaria and the rest of Europe by the 19th century, Borrini said it's still significant for archaeologists to uncover evidence of those beliefs.
"These discoveries, as well as mine in Venice, are useful," Borrini said. "They are the evidence of a folkloric tradition, and from them we can physically reconstruct the ancient tradition, and fear, of a country."