What makes a dead body become a vampire? A study published in PLoS ONE examined six skeletons from Drawsko in north-west Poland to understand why they were singled out as vampires. The 17th- to 18th-century graves contain features designed to stop the deceased returning after death, such as a sickle across the neck or body, and a stone beneath the chin to block the throat.
Historic records suggest individuals could be called a vampire because of cultural differences, either because they were foreign, had abnormal physical features, were born out of wedlock, remained unbaptised, or simply suffered an unusual death.
However, strontium-isotope analysis of the teeth revealed the individuals buried at Drawsko 1 cemetery were locals. Lesley Gregoricka, lead author of the study, told CWA, ‘We were surprised to learn this. We expected these individuals were targeted for deviant burial because of their status as outsiders to the community.’
According to co-authors Tracy Betsinger and Amy Scott, before better understanding of infectious diseases began to develop, the first person to die at the outbreak of an epidemic was believed to seek revenge by returning from the grave to inflict their illness on survivors.
However, Scott told CWA, ‘We don’t think the cemetery at Drawsko represents a cholera cemetery, but we do know cholera outbreaks were happening at this time in this region of Poland. While epidemics may explain the presence of vampire burials in some archaeological contexts, the rationale behind the Drawsko vampires has yet to be identified.’