Scientists from the University of South Alabama studied several unique burials from 17 and 18th century Poland, showing that when villagers suspected their deceased neighbors would rise from their grave, they took special precautions when burying them like placing a sickle over their neck.
Six bodies buried with sickle neckwear or with large rocks stuffed under their chins were found when a cemetery in Northern Poland was excavated. The researchers wanted to determine if the bodies were local to the area or got the unusual post-mortem suspicion because they were immigrants or outsiders.
To to do this they took molars from 60 individuals from the excavated cemetery, including the weird burials, and studied the radiogenic strontium isotope ratios from their dental enamel. Comparing this to the strontium isotopes of local animals showed that most of the “vampires” were in fact probably local Joes.
So why the otherworldly suspicion? It probably had more to do with the social identity or manner of death of the suspected bloodsuckers. Specifically, the researchers point out, there was a superstition that the first person to die in cholera or other infectious disease epidemic would come back as a vampire.
“People of the post-medieval period did not understand how disease was spread, and rather than a scientific explanation for these epidemics, cholera and the deaths that resulted from it were explained by the supernatural — in this case, vampires,” said research team leader Dr. Lesley Gregoricka.
[Source: PLOS One]
Image via Amy Scott