*Iron Rods Used to Impale Corpses Found in Bulgaria
From The Daily Mail
Ever since 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.
They demanded that his coffin be opened up to make sure he was properly despatched.
When the Austrian Imperial Provisor finally agreed to have the coffin prised open, the legend goes that he saw the cadaver had blood dripping from its mouth, talon-like fingernails, long fangs and signs of healthy skin.
He noted that the body had failed to decompose, and so the locals resorted to the tradition of slamming a stake through its heart and then incinerating the corpse.
Their horror, in fact, stemmed from ignorance about decomposition. Nails and teeth do not actually grow after death; instead, the skin and flesh shrink back, giving the impression of claw-like nails and abnormally long incisors.
Meanwhile, corpses can be bloated from gases caused by decomposition, giving the body the appearance that the dead has been enjoying a good meal or drink while in or out of its casket.
For a time, skin can also appear flushed after death, and blood can pool around facial cavities.
If this was not enough to scare the wits out of simple, God-fearing folk, it was also noted that there were unmentionable ‘other wild signs’ — a reference to how male genitalia can inflate during decomposition.
In some areas, vampires were known as ‘shroud-eaters’, because the cloth covering the corpse’s face had apparently been eaten away, revealing those ferocious teeth. In fact, it was the bacteria in the mouth that had dissolved the linen.
With these gruesome accounts, the vampire got its fangs into the imagination of the British people.
About eight years after the peasant Peter Plogojowitz became the most hated corpse in Eastern Europe, the London Journal ran an article about ‘vampyres’ at Madreyga, again in Hungary, in what was probably the first English usage of the word.
In 1819, the year that Queen Victoria was born, Lord Byron’s doctor, John Polidori, published his short story, The Vampyre, featuring an aristocrat who had a penchant for quaffing the blood of young women.
Bram Stoker then refined the story with Dracula, published in 1897. The Transylvanian aristocrat’s thirst for the blood of swooning and pallid young women was rivalled only by his yearning for fine tailoring.
When the play was performed in a London theatre the 1920s, a nurse was on hand to tend to traumatised members of audience.
But vampirism is not yet consigned to the history book. One account from the 20th century saw a man in Greece awake from a coma at his own funeral.
As he sat up, the congregation was convinced he was a vampire (or vrykolake) and he was stoned to death.
In the 1960s, an anthropologist recorded how older residents of one Greek island could still recall the killing of the last known vampire.
And just eight years ago, it was clear in Romania that belief in vampires had not disappeared.
In the remote village of Marotinul de Sus, the body of Petre Toma, a former teacher, was removed from its grave, had its heart removed and impaled on the end of a pitchfork.
The six men who’d dug up the 76-year-old’s body replaced it in the coffin and sprinkled it with garlic.
The heart was then burnt to ashes to ensure that Mr Toma could not rise from the dead to drink their blood.
After his arrest, the leader of those men insisted they were acting in the village’s best interests because Toma had appeared to many villagers in their dreams as a vampire.
The gang also insisted that when Toma’s heart was removed, the corpse let out a deep sigh.
Even though the authorities jailed them for illegal exhumation, many villagers praised them for their actions. For them, the vampire was no myth.
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