The mystery of medieval vampire burials in Poland.
The Drawsko Cemetary, in Poland, recently discovered hundreds of graves among them, they found also some anti-vampire burials. This site is a source of studies concerning ancient burial practices since 2008, the year from which over 250 graves were opened. Some of these people were decapitated, others buried face-down, and still more were weighted down with the stones. Over 1,000 graves were found in the cemetery.
The cemetery, which was known as Culmen in Latin, saw its first burial at the end of the 10th century AD, and Culmen became also one of several capitals of Poland in the Medieval ages, but it was burned at the beginning of the 13th century by the Teutonic Knights. Vampire graves have been of particular interest to archaeologists because of their strange nature. The burial practices to cure vampirism are made with special attempts to prevent the corpse from walking the earth: sickles around the neck, decapitation, prone burial, and heavy stones placed on the body. They had the neck bounded with an agricultural sickle, a system that had first been identified as a prevention against the “return from the world of the dead”. The sickle would have to cut off the neck of the “undead” when he tried to get up, thus preventing him from becoming a vampire, but a recent study rejects this theory, and says that the sickle was a prevention against the demon attack on the newly deceased. The skeletons that had the sickle were two girls of about thirty years old, a man between 35 and 40 years, a girl under 18 years and a woman who had a sickle wrapped around the pelvis. The sickles were obviously used for agriculture, and the causes of this funerary symbolism have not yet been clearly explained, but a theory holds that they are connected to magical rites and superstitions, in particular with the fear of vampires. The sickles could secure the dead in their own grave, preventing the “revived” corpses from getting up to avoid cutting their throats.
Current studies has identified three main reasons that Medieval people may have buried their friends, family or enemies as if they were vampires. First, the fear of vampires was particularly linked to the phenomenon of corpses that were found with blood on the mouth. Many diseases common at the time, tuberculosis or cholera for example, could cause to be pale and to bleed. Obviously, it was interpreted by the ancients as a phenomenon of vampirism. Second, before people understood that diseases are transmitted by germs or virus, they thought that vampires were sickening other people even after their deaths. And third, people may usually have feared those who looked or moved differently than normal. However, research revealed that 238 skeletons showed signs of disease. At the time of this burials, in the seventeenth century, Poland as much of Europe was going through a tumultuous period characterized by devastating wars, hunger, plague and poverty. Although Poland was an absolutely faithful state to the Church of Rome, the study notes that the uncertainty of the times led to a resurgence of pagan beliefs and popular superstition, including demonology, fueled by the Catholic clergy who spread fear of the devil and witchcraft.
Those who died suddenly without receiving a funeral rite to alleviate the transition from life to death, or who suffered a violent death, were considered to be particularly at risk of demonization. In the perception of these historical periods, these people were in a particular state, in the middle between the world of the living and that of the dead, which could make them become demons. Popular wisdom suggested that sickles ward off evil spirits from women and children, but also, of course, from the dead. Iron is an element that symbolizes the passage from earthly life to the otherworldly (since it turns into fire) and is a traditional symbol for transition.