Have archeologists recently uncovered the remains of a 17th-century vampire in a remote village cemetery in Poland?
By Walter S. Bracket III
Bram Stoker’s Dracula, published in 1897, created the modern vampire genre. But stories of vampires and vampire-like creatures are much older, dating back at least 4,000 years to ancient Mesopotamia, where they told stories of the demon goddess Lamatsu, who killed babies in their cribs.
Likewise, Hebrew folklore mentions the baby killer Lillith and the Greeks had Lamia, a female monster who sucked the life from children. The Chinese had undead such as the k’uei who prayed on the living, the Russians believed in reanimated corpses called upir, and Indians the vetala. Even the Romanians had the strigoi, or troubled spirits who they believed would rise from the grave to restore their vitality by drinking the blood of their victims.
These stories, seemingly common in almost all cultures throughout the ages, have led to the development of rituals and techniques designed to ensure that the dead remain dead, such as cremation, decapitation after death, and driving a stake through the heart of the corpse before burial.
But recently, archeologists have discovered a unique vampire-style burial in the village cemetery of the rural village of Pien, Poland. Here they uncovered a 17th-century female skeleton buried with a sickle placed across her neck and a padlock locked to the big toe of her left foot.
Although scythes and sickles are sometimes placed in graves as an offering, the placement of this sickle was unusual.
According to Dariusz Polinski of Nicholas Copernicus University, “It was not laid flat but placed on the neck in such a way that if the deceased had tried to get up, …the head would have been cut off or her neck severely injured.”
Polinski also noted that the padlock on the big toe may have symbolized “the impossibility of returning.”
The woman was buried with great care and was wearing an expensive silk cap, indicating she originally had wealth and prestige. But this doesn’t explain why she was buried in such an unusual way.
What about her could have led neighbors to believe she would come back after death to haunt her community?
There may be a clue in the skeleton itself, which had noticeably protruding front teeth. Polinski speculates that this physical difference may have led her community to suspect her to be a witch, vampire, or demon.