Archaeologists uncover evidence of vampire fear in Bulgaria – skeletons pierced through the chest

‘Vampire’ skeletons found in Bulgaria near Black Sea

Archaeologists in Bulgaria have found two medieval skeletons pierced through the chest with iron rods to supposedly stop them from turning into vampires.

The discovery illustrates a pagan practice common in some villages up until a century ago, say historians.

People deemed bad had their hearts stabbed after death, for fear they would return to feast on humans’ blood.

Bulgaria is home to around 100 known “vampire skeleton” burials.

Searchers stumbled across the latest two specimens, dating back to the Middle Ages, in the Black Sea town of Sozopol.

Tip: @unexplainedmys on Twitter

The short piece notes that vampire legends form an important part of the region’s folklore and that these myths were part of the inspiration for Bram Stoker’s Dracula.

I found a website that contains excerpts from “Bulgarian Superstitions,” Twelve Years’ Study of the Eastern Question in Bulgaria (1877):

By far the most curious superstition in Bulgaria is that of the Vampire,  a tradition which is common to all countries of Slavonic origin, but is now to be found in its original loathsomeness only in these provinces.

When a man who has vampire blood in his veins–for this condition is not only epidemic and endemic, but hereditary–or who is otherwise predisposed to become a vampire,  dies, nine days after his burial he returns to upper earth in an aëriform shape. The presence of the vampire in this his first condition may easily be discerned in the dark by a succession of sparks like those from a flint and steel; in the light, by a shadow projected upon a wall, and varying in density according to the age of the vampire in his career.

When the Bulgarian vampire has finished a forty days’ apprenticeship to the realm of shadows, he rises from his tomb in bodily form, and is able to pass himself off as a human being, living honestly and naturally. Thirty years since a stranger arrived in this village, established himself, and married a wife with whom he lived on very good terms, she making but one complaint, that her husband absented himself from the conjugal roof every night and all night. It was soon remarked that (although scavengers were, and are, utterly unknown in Bulgaria) a great deal of scavengers’ work was done at night by some unseen being, and that when one branch of this industry was exhausted, the dead horses and buffaloes which lay about the street were devoured by invisible teeth, much to the prejudice of the village dogs; then the mysterious mouth drained the blood of all cattle that happened to be in any way sickly. These occurrences, and the testimony of the wife, caused the stranger to be suspected of Vampirism; he was examined, found to have only one nostril,  and upon this irrefragable evidence was condemned to death.

Wow, that’s some crazy stuff there. It does illustrate that legends of the times were seriously scary and the population was extremely superstitious. We also see the vampire blamed for livestock kills instead of the regular predators, like dogs (who are noted to be annoyed by it). Compare that to modern explanations of livestock deaths – where Mexican villagers might invoke the chupacabra or Americans would wonder about aliens.

See more about Bulgarian vampires including more about the above reference at

  4 comments for “Archaeologists uncover evidence of vampire fear in Bulgaria – skeletons pierced through the chest

  1. Massachsuetts
    June 6, 2012 at 10:48 AM

    They were maiming corpses and drinking potions made of human remains to ward of vampirism in 19th century New England, believe it or not.

    I knew irrefutable but not irrefragable–great vocabulary word!

    I never heard about any of the apprenticeship of shadows stuff, nor living normally among humans. I thought those beliefs came later. I had thought the eastern european vampire archetype was a blood engorged corpse that slept by day in its grave and walked the earth at night in search of victims. This is an interesting addendum to vampire lore.

  2. Massachsuetts
    June 6, 2012 at 10:50 AM

    Check out the Mercy Brown incident, in late 19th century Rhode Island:

    It’s surprising that these beliefs persisted this late and on this side of the Atlantic!

  3. June 9, 2012 at 10:59 PM

    One has to be very specific about the context when you’re talking about historical (vs. fictional) vampires. In particular, the beliefs began to change substantially when the Balkans were brought more into contact with Western Europe on a regular basis, and the witchcraft beliefs of central and Western Europe merged to some degree with vampires of SE Europe, to create vampire epidemics (a concept which was not really in existence much before the 18th century). Much of the above sounds about right, though I was under the impression that in many cases, the vampire was a ravening monster for many years, before going and settling elsewhere as a human, rather than being a hidden monster in the new town.

    I get skeptical about some of the vampire archaeology claims (and apparently, there is a recent rebuttal to the “Italian vampire with a brick in its mouth” case), but this is in the right place, and sort of in the right time. Nonetheless, we do have to be careful not to impose later changes to the legends onto earlier behavior. I talk a bit more about this on an old blog post of mine, Vampire Archaeology.

  4. June 9, 2012 at 11:00 PM

    Here’s an article on the bioarchaeology of New England vampires

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