March 10, 2009—Among the many medieval plague victims recently unearthed near Venice, Italy, one had never-before-seen evidence of an unusual affliction: being undead.
The partial body and skull of one woman showed her jaw forced open by a brick (right) — an exorcism technique used on suspected vampires.
It's the first time that archaeological remains have been interpreted as belonging to a vampire, team leader Matteo Borrini, a forensic archaeologist at the University of Florence, told National Geographic News.
Borrini has been digging up mass graves on the island of Lazzaretto Nuovo, where the "vampire" was found, since 2006.
"I was lucky. I [didn't] expect to find a vampire during my excavations," he told National Geographic News.
Belief in vampires was rampant in the Middle Ages, mostly because the process of decomposition was not well understood.
For instance, as the human stomach decays, it releases a dark "purge fluid." This blood-like liquid can flow freely from a corpse's nose and mouth, so it was confused with traces of vampire victims' blood.
The fluid sometimes moistened the burial shroud near the corpse's mouth enough that it sagged into the jaw, creating tears in the cloth.
Since tombs were often reopened during plagues to bury other victims, Italian gravediggers saw these decomposing bodies with partially "eaten" shrouds.
Vampires were thought to be the cause of the plague, so the superstition took root that shroud-chewing was the "magical way" that vampires spread pestilence. Inserting objects—such as bricks and stones—into the mouths of vampires was thought to halt the disease.
* Telegraph: Mediaeval 'vampire' skull found near Venice