A recent news report from the Czech Republic immediately grabs the attention: archaeologists have uncovered the 4000-year old grave of a vampire in Bohemia
. Or rather, the grave of someone who was treated as a vampire. According to the report, sometime in the Early Bronze Age, a man died, and was buried with heavy stones placed in the grave over his head and chest. This is interpreted as treatment to ensure the man didn't return from the grave to plague the living as a vampire.
I'm no expert, but there is a problem with this. The development of the legend of the vampire in the Balkans dates back about a thousand years, with some elements being older. The term upir
first appears in a Russian text in 1047 CE. Bruce McClelland discusses the history and development of the Balkan vampire (specifically focusing on Bulgaria) in his dissertation (openly available online) Sacrifice, Scapegoat, Vampire: The Social and Religious Origins of the Bulgarian Folkloric Vampire
and in his book Slayers and Their Vampires: A Cultural History of Killing the Dead
. In those works, he ties the development of the vampire to a mix of pre-Christian ideas about death and the afterlife and religious strife between groups during the early centuries of Christianity in the region.
And the folkloric vampire of the 17th century or so has many differences from that of Bram Stoker's Dracula or subsequent tales. I'm pretty sure Anne Rice never had one of her pretty-boy protagonists roll around the landscape as a literal bag of blood, easily killed by a puncture wound from a hawthorne, for the first few years of their undead existence. The classic Balkan vampires were most commonly "dead sorcerers, witches, werewolves, excommunicates, and those who died unnatural deaths (such as suicides and drunkards)" Some were destined at birth to become vampires, including those with a caul on their head, with teeth showing at birth, or with contiguous eyebrows. Also, if a human or unclean animal steps over the body before burial after it is buried, the dead might rise as a vampire (Oinas 1982). This last is very common (Mclelland 2006: 53). Also, in general, bad people, unavenged people, etc. will return from the dead. The Romanian version (non-slavic) suggests that unmarried dead people, or those unforgiven by their parents, have a greater chance of rising as a strigoi (Perkowski 1982). In Serbia and in Greece, at least, this happens 40 days after death, when a "devilish spirit" enters the body to create a vukodlak (Serbia) or a vrykolakas (du Boulay 1982; Fine 1987). In some greek legends (of the vrykolakas) children born on Christmas will be vampires).
But even if there was something vaguely reminiscent of the vampire in Central European cultures 3000 years before the first appearance of the term, tying those pre-literate beliefs to skeletal and archaeological evidence becomes very difficult.
There is, however, more secure archaeology involving vampires. Archaeology and bioarchaeology on several cases in New England has noted the relationship between tuberculosis outbreaks and vampire panics in the nineteenth century. This report describes some of the details (Sledzik and Bellantoni 1994
) and this press release
discusses the filming of some work for a documentary.
And a major update. Anastasia Tsaliki, a PhD candidate at Durham University in the UK, is conducting dissertation research on "disposals of the dead" involving "necrophobia
." That indeed fits the bill. She has already written a paper on "Vampires Beyond Legend: A Bioarchaeological Approach"
which she has made available on her blog. She is indeed pointing at the use of rocks as a sign of necrophobia, and tying that into vampire folklore. As I mention above, I am skeptical of this. Broadening the interpretation to a general fear of the dead rising is of course more acceptable, and I could see myself doing something similar if I were working on remains with such treatment, but it remains speculation. I look forward to Ms. Tsaliki's dissertation.
EDIT: Lost of new information
on the Italian vampire announced last year.
du Boulay, Juliette
1982 The Greek Vampire; A Study of Cyclic Symbolism in Marriage and Death. Man
17: 219 - 238.
Fine, John V. A., Jr.
1987 In Defense of Vampires. East European Quarterly
21: 15 - 23.
Mclelland, Bruce A.
2006 Slayers and Their Vampires: A Cultural History of Killing the Dead
. University of Michigan Press, Ann Arbor.
1982 East European Vampires. Journal of Popular Culture
16: 108 - 114.
Perkowski, Jan Louis
1982 The Romanian Folkloric Vampire. East European Quarterly
16: 311 - 322.
Sledzik, Paul S. and Nicholas Bellantoni
1994 Bioarchaeological and Biocultural Evidence for the New England Vampire Folk Belief. The American Journal of Physical Anthropology