Earlier this month in northwestern Poland, a grave was exhumed that some believe belonged to a vampire. The dig took place in a small town called Kamien Pomorski. The leader of the dig, Slawomir Gorka, claims that some aspects of this burial are unusual and may be indicative of a vampire burial. One of the legs was staked down and a rock had been placed in the mouth where the teeth had been taken out.
This is not the first incidence of Polish interments being declared vampiric. In July 2013, a team of archaeologists discovered four skeletons that had been decapitated, with skulls were found between the skeletons’ legs. This was in Gliwice, at a construction site in southern Poland. Both graves, Kamien Pomorski and Gliwice, date back to somewhere around the 16th century.
Though grisly, these burials coincide with Polish folklore from early medieval times regarding vampires. According to a professor at London’s University College, Titus Hjelm, who teaches a vampire course at the School of Slavonic and Eastern European Studies, only in Poland are vampires thought to consume their flesh and clothes upon rising from the dead. He guesses that could explain why the rock was put inside the mouth of the alleged vampire. The medieval period Eastern Europeans were extremely afraid of the creatures. He adds that they had specific reasons for fearing vampires who had risen from their graves.
A colleague of Professor Hjelm’s, Professor Martyn Rady, has a theory that explains just how these frightening ideas got into the Eastern European myth dialogue. From Serbia, the folktales spread after an intercepted Austrian military report, meant for superiors in Vienna, was published. In the report, an incident was described in which a soldier was turned into a vampire who went about infecting victims. When these vampires, now expired, were exhumed, it was said that their cavities held fresh blood.
According to various sources, Rady continues, the Polish people believed that rather than being turned into a vampire, they were in fact born that way. These vampire-people would live a typical life. When they died, however, they had the ability to come back to the land of the living, rejoin their families and even reproduce. This belief could explain some of the measures taken at the time of burial.
Some experts are warning that presumptions about unconventional burial practices may give an inaccurate image of the people of that time. An archaeologist, Kamil Kajkowski, who works for the West-Cassubian Museum in Bytów, Poland, explains that numerous burial preparations of the medieval period in Poland have been discovered and are quite strange. A common practice seems to have been placement of the body in a prone position, face down, either covered with rocks or decapitated. Kajkowski suggests that these types of burials could simply represent afterlife punishments for criminals.
Of the more recent discovery, Kajkowski suspects that placing a rock in the mouth and piercing a thigh bone could point to ritualistic practices, perhaps a way to create a barrier between the living and the dead. He also points out that as recent as 1913, these types of unusual burial measures were being used. Regarding the placement of the decapitated head between the dead person’s legs, Kajkowski suggests that it may have been a way to help ensure that “the dead would not be able to ‘reach it’ and put it back on his neck.”
Though research was begun in the 1950s, science is still grappling with the possible reasons why only certain people were treated differently in their burials. At this point, vampire is just as good a guess as any. If Polish society believed that particular people had specifically evil intent upon the populace, whether a vampire, criminal or psychotic killer, certainly it stands to reason that, upon their death, citizens would take extra precautions upon their burial to ensure that they not return.
By Stacy Lamy