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November 27, 2014

Polish ‘Vampires’ Were Most Likely Local Residents Who Died Of Cholera

Brett Smith for redOrbit.com - Your Universe Online

In 16th and 17th century Poland, people who died and were suspected of coming back to life as a vampire received a special kind of burial treatment – involving sharp, curved knives around their necks and rocks on their jaws.

A new study published in the journal PLOS ONE has found that some of these ‘Polish Vampires’ were not exotic foreigners, but people of local origin.

"These individuals were not suspected of becoming vampires due to their identity as non-locals, but instead, were distrusted within some other, additional societal context as members of the local community," the authors wrote in their report.

Before the study, theories surrounding these burials posited that these people were foreign interlopers and therefore suspected of having a vampiric nature. To test these theories, the study team conducted a chemical evaluation of six unusual skeletons found in northwestern Poland, all interred 400 to 500 years ago.

Individual 60/2010 (45-49 year old female) is shown with a stone placed directly on top of the throat. Credit: Gregoricka et al.

More specifically, the team looked at radiogenic strontium isotope ratios in the skeleton teeth to determine the diet these people had when they were alive. The tooth enamel of 60 skeletons, including the six ‘vampires’, was tested in total. The results were then compared to strontium isotopes of local animals.

The study team discovered that those skeletons in unusual graves were likely not migrants to the area. The researchers theorized that these individuals could have been victims of the cholera epidemics that ravaged Eastern Europe at the time they were alive. Some folk legends tell tales of the first person dying from an infectious disease returning as a vampire and spreading death and disease.

"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 study author Lesley Gregoricka from University of South Alabama.

“While historic records describe the many potential reasons why some people were considered at increased risk of becoming a vampire, no previous study had attempted to examine the identity of these individuals using chemical analyses of the human skeleton,” Gregoricka told Rossella Lorenzi of Discovery News.

Throughout the history of Europe, people have practiced numerous burial rituals in an attempt to thwart the rise of a vampire. Last year, a construction site in Poland was found to contain several corpses with their severed head placed between their legs.

“There is a strong Slavic belief in spirits. Romanian folklore has vampiric figures such as the moroi and strigoi. The word ‘mora‘ means nightmare. But these are common to many cultures. We often see bird- or owl-like figures that swoop down and feed on you,” Tim Beasley-Murray, a Slavonic and East European studies expert at the University College London, told The Guardian.

Beasley-Murray added that vampire folk lore has its roots in the cultures of ancient Egypt and ancient Greece. ‘Vampire burials’ have also been found in North America as European settlers brought their beliefs across the Atlantic.

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