“Healthy” and “vampires” are two words you don’t want to see in the same sentence, yet they’re together in recent headlines out of Poland where archeologists studying the graves of people buried in the strange manner that alleged vampires were interred in medieval times have determined that the bones did not show signs of the diseases and deformities that often caused unenlightened to assume they were denizens of darkness. So what were they?

A recently discovered cemetery in Kałdus, Poland, called Culmine shows evidence that the first burials there occurred in the 10th century AD and continued until the 13th century when Kaldus was destroyed by the Teutonic Knights, those Catholic mercenaries of the Middle Ages. Was it burned because it was a capital of Poland or because it was the residence of vampires?

Among the estimated 1,000 graves in Culmine were 14 with remains showing the classic signs of vampire burial. Some of the corpses were placed face-down, others were decapitated and many were covered with stones to keep them from rising up again. Archaeologists have long believed that these corpses were once people with mysterious or contagious diseases or physical deformities that caused them to be shunned in life and feared in death.

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“Anti-vampire” grave from cemetery in Kałdus. The female (left) and male (right) were both decapitated and buried on their sides in the same grave. (Photo by Jacek Bojarski, courtesy of Wojciech Chudziak.)

Not so with these 14. In a paper presented recently at the American Association of Physical Anthropologists conference, archaeologists Magdalena Matczak and Tomasz Kozłowski describe analyzing half of all of the skeletons in Culmine, including the alleged vampires, for evidence of disease and deformities. They found that 238 of them, including the vampires, showed signs of disease.

Most of the skeletons from anti-vampire burials have changes associated with scurvy, osteoperiostitis, degenerative lesions, and fractures.

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Alleged vampire buried with sickle across neck (Forbes)

However, so did the people buried normally. In fact, they found skeletons showing signs of less common conditions like meningitis and trepanation (a hole in the skull drilled by a well-meaning but severely under-trained physician or medieval barber) that were placed in the grave facing up to their heavenly goal.

Contrary to previous research, our analysis showed that people with tuberculosis, anemia, and scurvy were not [necessarily] given anti-vampire burials.

That makes sense. If everyone in a town is sick or deformed, it’s no longer unusual or something to be feared. The vampires were just as healthy (or unhealthy) as their neighbors. Then why were the ‘Vampire 14’ buried that way? Matczak doesn’t know for sure and says more research is needed, but she has some ideas.

[They may have been people] who died suddenly without Christian sacraments, like unbaptized children, people who committed suicide, babies born with teeth, or newly postpartum mothers.

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Alleged vampire corpse weighed down by stone (Forbes)

So these poor people may have had “spiritual” deformities determined by religious leaders.

Thank goodness we’ve progressed beyond that. Haven't we?

Paul Seaburn

Paul Seaburn is the editor at Mysterious Universe and its most prolific writer. He’s written for TV shows such as "The Tonight Show", "Politically Incorrect" and an award-winning children’s program. He's been published in “The New York Times" and "Huffington Post” and has co-authored numerous collections of trivia, puzzles and humor. His “What in the World!” podcast is a fun look at the latest weird and paranormal news, strange sports stories and odd trivia. Paul likes to add a bit of humor to each MU post he crafts. After all, the mysterious doesn't always have to be serious.

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