Time to Slay Vampire Burials? The Archaeological and Historical Evidence for Vampires in Europe
By David Barrowclough
Published Online (2014)
Abstract: The identification of deviant burials as those of ‘vampires’ is a feature of excavated skeletons from sites across Eastern, Central and Southern Europe as well as the Balkans. Based on a close reading of historic and folkloric sources researchers have sought to match features of excavated sites with narrative descriptions drawn from vampire legend and myth. This study critically reviews the recent claims based on sites in Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Greece, Italy, Poland and Slovakia. Whilst it is found that there was a widespread belief in vampires across Europe, it is argued that it is difficult to make absolute claims for ‘vampire’ burials on archaeological grounds as in most cases there are alternate and equally compelling interpretations of the data.
Introduction: In recent years there has been a steady stream of publicity around the excavation of so-called ‘Vampire’ burials. The validity of such claims is considered in the light of both archaeological and historical evidence, and the criteria for identifying burials as those of ‘vampires’ discussed. Vampires are a constant of popular culture: film, television and novels. The aim of this paper is to look behind this popular image to consider the archaeological evidence for vampire burials.
A vampire is a mythical being who subsists by feeding on the blood of living creatures. In folklore vampires often visited loved ones and caused mischief or deaths in the community they inhabited when they were alive. By tradition vampires wore shrouds, and were often described as bloated and or ruddy or dark countenance; unlike the image of the gaunt, pale vampire, which dates from the early 1800s.
The belief in vampires was widespread across Central, Eastern and Southern Europe throughout the Middle Ages. The word itself is derived from the original Slavic term opyrb or opir, which later appears as vipir, vepir, vapir. Belief in vampirism was connected with pagan spiritualism, and spread after the introduction of Christianity in the tenth and eleventh centuries, which introduced inhumation in place of cremation for dead bodies.