Last week I was discussing the possibility of sea-dwelling vampires, this week I’m back on terra firma and happily haunting a cemetery. A Medieval cemetery, to be precise, in Kaldus, Poland. Among my many hats is a battered, neglected, but nevertheless loved Stetson fedora, aka The Archaeologist’s Crown (because, you know…Indiana Jones…). It’s a while since I broke out my trowel and got down and dirty with the past, but a recent discovery has given me cause to sink my…erm…teeth into my archaeological roots once again – real life vampires.

Archaeologists from the Nicholas Copernicus University in Toruń, headed by Prof.  Wojciech Chudziak have been analysing the remains of fourteen skeletons from the site. Although over a thousand humans were interred here, these particular graves have been the centre of much debate due to the apparent ‘anti-vampire’ techniques used when interring the remains.

“Anti-vampire” grave from Kałdus, Poland. This male (right) and female (left) were both decapitated, and buried in a single grave, on their sides, at an unusual angle. (Photo by Jacek Bojarski, courtesy of Wojciech Chudziak.)

For those of you unfamiliar with Medieval Christian burial practices, individuals were traditionally laid out supine and face up, with their feet to the east and heads to the west so the deceased might face the rising sun (and thus be ready for the Second Coming). Contrary to this tradition, fourteen of the skeletons discovered in the cemetery had been quite deliberately decapitated, buried face-down, or weighed down with stones, and laid out at odd angles.

This bizarre practice is not only found at Kaldus, and is often seen to be some kind of ‘anti-vampire’ practice, leading to them being dubbed ‘vampire graves’. Vampire graves have become rather notorious and I have to admit to being fascinated with them (vampires and archaeology? How can a girl possibly resist?). It’s believed by many that these practices were seen to be a ‘cure’ for vampirism, and prevented the dead from rising again to stalk the earth (and the living).

Indeed you could be forgiven for thinking a vampire hunter was behind these odd practices. We all know cutting off a vamp’s head is a sure-fire way to kill it, and crawling out of your own coffin is hard enough without being pinned to the ground by rocks…

Theories on the reasoning for this practice previously revolved around the individuals being unhealthy, or suffering from some form of disability or deformity that led to them being treated differently. There are, after all, many diseases and physical conditions (such as tuberculosis, which causes a deathly pallor and the emission of blood, and porphyria, which causes extreme sensitivity to light) that could be mistaken for symptoms of vampirism. In addition, prior to understanding how disease was transmitted, many believed that people fell ill due vampiric attacks that literally drained the life out of you.

The vampire was not always the blood-sucking fiend of modern pop culture, at one time they were believed to sap your energy and life force as much as they were associated with blood. In addition, modern scholarship has previously held that those who appeared different may have been feared for their deformities and thus, suspected of vampirism (among other things).

Kaldus has put the kibosh on this theory, when scientific analysis determined that the skeletons interred in vampire burials were no less healthy than other individuals in the cemetery, buried in a normal manner. In fact, disease and disability appear to have been common-place in Kaldus, and thus would almost certainly have been seen as ‘normal’ to the denizens.

So why were these fourteen people essentially staked into their coffins?

Disease and physical disability may be out, but for some reason the society at Kaldus believed these people were vampires, and treated them accordingly. I need to do more digging (pardon the pun) into this before I form a solid opinion, but for now, I find it intriguing to know there was a time when real life Buffys and Blades stalked cemeteries ensuring the dead remained in the ground…