Thought Vampires Were Just Lurid Film Fantasy? Skeletons Found Impaled on Iron Stakes Say Otherwise
Byline: by Steve Bird
EVER since the Gothic novelist Bram Stoker's charmingly aristocratic character Count Dracula first appalled and mesmerised late Victorian England, the vampire that sinks its fangs into the neck of its victims and can only be slain with a stake driven through its heart has been a mainstay of European fiction.
The new incarnation of good-looking young vampires with American accents in television series such as Buffy The Vampire Slayer or in books such as the Twilight series, only serves to show how difficult it has been to kill off these bloodthirsty ghouls of the undead.
But while we may think that vampires live only in the pages of books and on the cinema screen, an extraordinary new archaeological discovery shows that they were all too terrifyingly real to people in times gone by.
Archaeologists in Bulgaria claimed this week to have discovered two 'vampire' corpses in excavations near a monastery in the Black Sea town of Sozopol. Both of them are more than 800 years old and have been pierced through the chest with heavy iron rods.
Bulgaria's national museum chief Bozidhar Dimitrov said as many as 100 such 'vampire corpses' have been found in the country in recent years.
'They illustrate a practice which was common in some Bulgarian villages up until the first decade of the 20th century,' he explained.
Even today, the vampire remains a very real threat in the minds of villagers in some of the most remote communities of Eastern Europe, where garlic and crucifixes are readily wielded, and where bodies are exhumed so that a stake can be driven through their heart.
The notion of blood-sucking vampires preying on the flesh of the living goes back thousands of years and was common in many ancient cultures, where tales of these reviled creatures of the dead abounded.
Archaeologists recently found 3,000 Czech graves, for example, where bodies had been weighed down with rocks to prevent the dead emerging from their tombs.
The advent of Christianity only fuelled the vampire legends, for they were considered the antithesis of Christ -- spirits that rose from the dead bodies of evil people. Such vampires would stalk the streets in search of others to join their unholy pastime of sucking the lifeblood from humans and animals to survive.
In medieval times, when the Church was all-powerful and the threat of eternal damnation encouraged superstition among a peasantry already blighted by the Black Death, the fear of vampires was omnipresent. In some cases, the dead were buried with a brick wedged in their mouths to stop them rising up to eat those who had perished from the plague.
RECORDS show that in the 12th Century on the Scottish Borders, a woman claimed she was being terrorised by a dead priest who had been buried at Melrose Abbey only days earlier.
When the monks uncovered the tomb, they claimed to have found the corpse bleeding fresh blood. The corpse of the priest, well known for having neglected his religious duties, was burned.
But vampiric folklore largely flourished in Eastern European countries and Greece, where they did not have a tradition of believing in witches. And just as with witches in England, Germany and America, the vampire became a scapegoat for a community's ills.
The 'civilised' world came to learn of vampires in the 18th century as Western empires expanded and their peoples travelled to remote parts of Central and Eastern Europe.
With the spread of Austria's empire, for example, the West became aware of the story of the remote village of Kisilova (believed to be modern-day Kisiljevo in Hungary) after it had been annexed by the Austrians.
In 1725, the village's cobbled streets were stricken with panic over tales of the undead spreading disease and strangling innocent people.
Locals blamed the spate of unexplained deaths on one Peter Plogojowitz, a peasant who had been dead and buried for ten weeks. …