They were found buried with sharp farm sickles across their necks so their heads would be cut off if they tried to rise from the dead. Some had heavy rocks placed under their chins so they couldn’t open their mouths to bite a living person and pass on to them whatever it was that turned them into strange, frightening creatures and caused their quick, horrible and mysterious deaths in 17th century Poland. Were they truly vampires? New research suggests these poor souls were instead the first victims of a cholera epidemic.
The six vampire graves were found in a cemetery in Drawsko Pomorskie, a town in northwest Poland. The skeletons were among over 300 found at the site between 2008 and 2012. There was one male, four females and a child buried like vampires and it’s possible people at the time may have believed the man infected the others. Legends also suggest that vampires were outsiders to the community. According to a study published in the journal PLOS ONE, researchers led by Dr. Lesley Gregoricka, from University of South Alabama, were brought in to analyze the suspected vampires.
The team studied strontium isotopes in the molars of the suspected vampires and found the ratios were the same as those of other skeletons and animal bones, proving they ate the same foods and drank the same water, making them local residents. They determined that burials took place in the early 17th century, coinciding with the early stages of the first of many cholera epidemics in Europe. We know now that cholera, caused by fecal contamination from poor sanitation, kills quickly by rapid dehydration from diarrhea and vomiting. Any unusual deaths or illnesses at that time were looked at with suspicion and considered to be vampire-related, according to Gregoricka.
Individuals ostracized during life for their strange physical features, those born out of wedlock or who remained unbaptized, and anyone whose death was unusual in some way – untimely, violent, the result of suicide, or even as the first to die in an infectious disease outbreak – all were considered vulnerable to reanimation after death.
While the researchers can’t prove conclusively that the so-called vampires died from cholera, the isotopes and historical data point to it.
Vampires fear holy water. These could have been saved by it, provided it was clean.