Saturday, March 14, 2009

Female 'vampire' dug up in Italy, and new theories rise from grave


March 14, 2009

ASSOCIATED PRESS

ROME – An archaeological dig near Venice has unearthed the 16th-century remains of a woman with a brick stuck between her jaws – evidence, experts say, that she was believed to be a vampire.

The unusual burial is thought to be the result of an ancient vampire-slaying ritual, in which a stone or brick was forced into the vampire's mouth so it would starve to death. It suggests the legend of the mythical bloodsucking creatures was tied to medieval ignorance of how diseases spread and what happens to bodies after death, experts said.

The well-preserved skeleton was found in 2006 on the Lazzaretto Nuovo island, north of the lagoon city, amid other corpses buried in a mass grave during an epidemic of plague that hit Venice in 1576.

"Vampires don't exist, but studies show people at the time believed they did," said Matteo Borrini, a forensic archaeologist and anthropologist at Florence University who studied the case over the last two years. "For the first time, we have found evidence of an exorcism against a vampire."

Medieval texts show the belief in vampires was fuelled by the disturbing appearance of decomposing bodies, Borrini told The Associated Press by telephone.

During epidemics, mass graves were often reopened to bury fresh corpses and diggers would chance upon older corpses that were bloated, with blood seeping out of their mouth and with an inexplicable hole in the shroud over the face.

"These characteristics are all tied to the decomposition of bodies," Borrini said. "But they saw a fat, dead person, full of blood and with a hole in the shroud, so they would say: 'This guy is alive, he's drinking blood and eating his shroud.' "

Modern forensic science shows the bloating is caused by a buildup of gases, fluid seeping from the mouth is pushed up by decomposing organs, and the shroud consumed by bacteria in the mouth.


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