Ever since the Raiders of the Lost Ark rocked my childhood, I've been a big fan of anything that combines archaeology and the supernatural. And while real-life Indys always seem to be finding ancient bits of apocryphal scripture and tombs which may or may not have belonged to Jesus, this is cool on a whole new level: at a Bronze Age dig site in Eastern Europe, archaeologists recently discovered what they think might be a 4,000 year old vampire graveyard in the Czech Republic.
During their explorations, archaeolgists in charge of the dig found the grave of a man whose skeleton showed the unmistakable tell-tale signs that his community had believed him to be a vampire and carried out certain specific rituals designed to keep the corpse in its grave after death. On opening the grave, which was set well apart from others nearby, the archaeologists found that the skeleton had been weighted down to prevent it returning to haunt the living.
Experts believe that the Eastern European belief in vampires -- famously culminating in the myths of Carpathia in modern-day Romania -- may have come from the Irish Celts who settled there, and brought their fears of bloodsucking fiends with them. But this Bohemian vampire graveyard isn't the first to be discovered -- merely the oldest. An 11th century "vampire burial ground" was unearthed in 1966 near Prague, and was described by an archaeologist this way:
"All the skeletons, buried in separate graves, showed the tell-tale signs of anti-vampire rituals. Some were weighted down, others had a nail driven through their temple, were tied down or variously debilitated and their heads cut off and faced downward so that they should not find their way back to the world of the living. These noteworthy funerary rituals indicate that the bodies were the remains of revenants in the eyes of the medieval villagers of Celakovice."
Many cultures around the world have traditions of vampire myths, and the vampire is one of the most enduring of supernatural beasties. Long before Romero-esque zombies stalked the nightmare landscapes of peoples' minds, there were the bloodthirsty undead. Eastern Europe of the 18th century was particularly plagued by supposed vampire sightings, so much so that rural areas in Hungary and elsewhere reported "vampire epidemics," and responded by exhuming and driving stakes through the hearts of the recently deceased in rural graveyards. Finally, the Empress of Austria launched a personal investigation into the veracity of vampires and, finally convinced that they were nothing more than superstition, decreed that the opening and desecration of graves was illegal, and so put a stop to the "epidemic." (More recently, a researcher at the University of Central Florida proved that vampires were "mathematically impossible.")
But archaeology can only tell us so much. When this belief in vampires began -- insomuch as vampire burials can be counted as evidence -- is becoming increasingly clear. Why is began is another matter entirely.
While we're on the subject, here are some of our favorite vampires.
Here's a little about why we love them.
And this is a vampire shirt you can buy.