Vampire Unearthed in Italy–No, Really

25 Mar

Recently, an archaeological dig near Venice, Italy turned up a female skeleton with a brick wedged in the mouth. Forensic archaeologist and anthropologist Matteo Borrini suggested that this unusual finding indicates that her neighbors must have believed she was a vampire since the brick could be part of an ancient vampire-slaying ritual. It was felt that if you forced a an object such as a brick into the mouth of the vampire they could no longer feed on the blood they needed and would therefore starve to death. That makes sense to me. I imagine it’s hard to bite someone’s neck if you have a brick in your mouth.

Why was this woman believed to be a vampire or for that matter why was anyone labeled this way? It’s possible that some of the ancient vampire stories come from the paucity of knowledge about body decomposition. As a body decays, the stomach contents, the lungs and other organs in the body, and the brain tissue begins to break down. This turns into a blackish liquid that will come out the nose and the mouth. We call these purge fluids. These very dark liquids, even today, can be mistaken for old blood and confused with pre-mortem traumatic injuries. Back then, it is easy to see that people might believe this to be evidence that the person had been a blood drinker.

The excavation where this unfortunate woman’s exhumation occurred was a 16th century burial ground where many victims of the black plague that hit Venice in 1576 were laid to rest. As the body count climbed, grave sites would be reopened so that more bodies could be dumped into the same site. Perhaps the burial party saw these purge fluids on some of the corpses and believed that they must have been vampires, who were now, in death, regurgitating their bloody meals.

Somehow this doesn’t conger up images of Sookie Stackhouse or Bella Swan.


5 responses to “Vampire Unearthed in Italy–No, Really

  1. Leslie S. Klinger

    March 25, 2010 at 1:19 pm

    I believe that your analysis is correct. Often, the local villagers would decide that old so-and-so must be a vampire, disturbing the neighborhood even though dead! The coffin would be opened and the corpse examined. The typical “vampiric” symptoms that were often noted when a corpse was disturbed were (a) the apparent continued growth of hair and nails (apparent, because the shrinkage of skin at the scalp and fingers, creating the appearance of growth), (b) red fluids draining from the lips, (c) a flushed appearance, (d), a groaning sound emerging from a disturbed corpse, and perhaps (e) movement of a limb. All of these would be the normal results of decomposition and the internal gases created by decomposition, a process little understood at the time.

    The brick in the mouth was obviously put there after she was dead. We’ll never know whether she exhibited other vampiric traits while she was alive or only after she was dead, causing the precautionary brick to be inserted. BTW, another common preventative measure was staking the corpse into the coffin, with a wooden or iron stake.

    Les Klinger
    Editor, The New Annotated Dracula


    • D.P. Lyle, MD

      March 25, 2010 at 5:11 pm

      Les–Thanks, my friend. The insights from a true Dracula expert are always enlightening.

      If any of you have not read Les Klinger’s Dracula book and the trio of books he wrote on Holmes, do so. Beautifully written and the books themselves are works of art.



  2. Robert W. Walker

    March 25, 2010 at 7:19 pm

    Z Dr. is spot on; I have read of such in my research over the years but this is the first time I ever done seen a brick in a Vampire’s mouth – or so called vampireess. Likely the idea of a stake comes from this practice….why not a stake thru the heart and a brick thru the teeth.

    Thansk Dr. L for dragging this vampire out into the light.


  3. Ruby Johnson

    March 25, 2010 at 7:54 pm

    Very interesting from a historical perspective as well as modern forensics.


  4. Digital Dame

    March 26, 2010 at 9:16 am

    Oooo, I’ve been drooling over that book! Haven’t gotten it yet, but it’s high on my list.

    I remember seeing an article about this back when the news first broke. I’d never heard of the brick before to stop vampires. Another thing I’ve heard mentioned was that people were sometimes buried alive, after erroneously being pronounced dead, then waking up in the grave and attempting to claw their way out. This could have given rise to the idea of vampires attempting to rise from the grave as well.



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