In Poland, a 16th – 17th century grave has been unearthed, showing evidence that the deceased was believed to be a vampire; a brick was found between his teeth, and his leg had been staked to the ground to prevent him rising from the dead and terrorising the living. According to the pagan beliefs in the area (typical slavic folklore), people who were considered bad during their lifetime might turn into vampires after death, unless of course certain rituals were held postmortem, including wedging open the jaw to prevent the vampire from feeding after death, and stabbing the deceased with an iron or wooden rod before being buried. People believed the rod would pin them down in their graves to prevent them from leaving at midnight and terrorising the wilderness. The legends formed an important part of Poland’s folklore, as well as other countries throughout Europe.
Hundreds of ‘vampire burials’ have already been found throughout Eastern Europe, including more than 100 in Bulgaria, all of them male and all prominent citizens. Incredibly, the ancient practice, which began at least as early as the 13th century, only stopped being practiced in Bulgaria 25 years ago.
The latest discovery was made during excavations in the town of Kamien Pomorski, in north-western Poland. A brick had been so forcefully wedged in the deceased’s mouth that it knocked out the upper teeth. The remains also featured a large puncture in the leg, which suggests that the leg had been staked to the ground. It seems such vampire-slaying rituals were common in the region.
It has also been suggested that some of the beliefs about vampires stemmed from the characteristics of Black Death corpses. Mass graves were often reopened to bury corpses during epidemics, which sometimes displayed blood seeping out of the mouth and with a hole in the shroud used to cover their face. The people of the time believed that these ‘vampires’ spread the plague by chewing their way through their shrouds after death. Placing a brick in their mouths was believed to prevent this from happening.