Four skeletons unearthed in Poland appear to have been buried in a “vampire” ritual designed to prevent them returning from the grave.
Archaeologists believe that the bodies - buried with their heads between their legs - may have been hung on gallows to rot before they were buried.
The “vampires” were unearthed during the construction of a ring road in Gliwice - each had been buried with their head chopped off and without possessions.
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“These ‘vampires’ from could have been condemned to death by beheading - or had their spine broken on the gallows,” says Dr Jacek Pierzak, whose team is still working to date the remains.
“In the Middle Ages the condemned would hang on the gallows in public view as they decomposed - but would be taken down before they fell down due to decomposition. Then the body would be buried with its head between its legs.”
Vampire rituals were common in Slavic areas in the early Christian period, Pierzak says.
“Those suspected of vampirism were buried face down, sometimes they were tied hand and foot, and sometimes hands upon the cross on the chest,” says Pierzak. “In other cases, such as in Gliwice, the “vampire’s” head would be cut off and placed in between the legs. Sometimes a heavy stone would be placed on top of the tomb - or the “vampire’s” chest would be pierced, pinning them to the ground. All this would prevent the vampire returning from the grave.”
The team have also not ruled out the idea that the tomb may be a relic of human sacrifice from the early Middle Ages.
“Nothing is really certain,” said Dr Pierzak, in an interview with the Dziennik Zachodni newspaper. “A vampire burial is one of the hypotheses that we are considering.”
“We found absolutely nothing on the skeletons, so it is difficult to say what period the skeletons are from. This is a special case.”
“Vampires” in Polish culture weren’t the bloodsucking immortals of popular culture, Dr Pierzak says - often the term was used to describe people with pagan beliefs, or even people suspected of pagan practices such as leaving food on loved ones’ graves.
The beliefs are deep-rooted in Polish culture, Pierzak says - the last known case of such “anti-vampiric” practices was reported in 1914.
“In 1914, in the village of Old Mierzwice delay in Mazovia, a body was dug out of his grave, and they cut off his head, which was then placed at the foot of the deceased,” says Pierzak.