March 13, 2009
Researchers In Venice Uncover Corpse Of A ‘Vampire’
Researchers in Italy have uncovered what appears to be the remains of a female "vampire" in Venice, Reuters reported.
The woman's remains were buried with a brick jammed between her jaws, most likely to prevent her from feeding on victims of a plague that swept the city in the 16th century, experts said.
The discovery on the small island of Lazzaretto Nuovo in the Venice lagoon supports the medieval belief that vampires were behind the spread of plagues like the Black Death, according to anthropologist Matteo Borrini from the University of Florence.
Borrini told Reuters the recent discovery was the first time that archaeology had succeeded in reconstructing the ritual of exorcism of a vampire.
"This helps ... authenticate how the myth of vampires was born," he added.
Researchers found the skeleton among an unearthed mass grave from the Venetian plague of 1576 on Lazzaretto Nuovo, which lies around 2 miles northeast of Venice and was used as a sanatorium for plague sufferers.
Borrini said the plagues that ravaged Europe between 1300 and 1700 resulted in the belief in vampires for some people, mainly because the decomposition of corpses was not well understood at the time.
Uncovered mass graves often had bodies bloated by gas, with hair still growing and blood seeping from their mouths, making gravediggers at the time believe they were still alive.
Bacteria in the mouth often decayed the shrouds used to cover the faces of the dead, revealing the corpse's teeth; vampires became known as "shroud-eaters."
The "undead" were believed to spread pestilence in order to suck the remaining life from corpses until they acquired the strength to return to the streets again, according to medieval medical and religious texts.
Borrini said to kill the vampire you had to remove the shroud from its mouth, which was its food like the milk of a child, and put something uneatable in there.
"It's possible that other corpses have been found with bricks in their mouths, but this is the first time the ritual has been recognized."
Historians say legends about blood-drinking ghouls date back thousands of years, but the most modern figure of the vampire was created by Irish author Bram Stoker's 1897 novel "Dracula," based on 18th century eastern European folktales.
Image Credit: University of Florence
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