The 81st Annual Meeting of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists (2012)


From popular culture to scientific inquiry: A bioarchaeological analysis of vampires in post-medieval Poland

TRACY K. BETSINGER1 and AMY B. SCOTT2.

1Anthropology, SUNY - College at Oneonta, 2Anthropology, The University of Manitoba, Winnipeg

Thursday 4:45-5:00, Galleria North Add to calendar

Mythical beings, such as vampires, have undoubtedly become a mainstay in popular culture. However, these fictious evildoers have a very real counterpart in many cultures throughout the world. In post-medieval Poland, for example, vampires were synonymous with evil spirits bent on spreading disease and wreaking havoc for the living society. Not all deceased people were at risk of becoming vampires; however, for those that society deemed to be such a threat, specific anti-vampiristic methods were employed to prevent vampirism. These methods, as evidenced in the mortuary context, have been found in several burials from a 17th-18th century cemetery in Drawsko, Poland. The purpose of this study is to compare the health of the “vampire” burials to those of the rest of the cemetery sample. Since determinations of who may become a vampire were often culturally determined, we anticipate little or no health differences within the sample. Health indicators, including stress markers (e.g., linear enamel hypoplasias), dietary deficiency (e.g., scurvy), infection (e.g., periostitis, tuberculosis), and trauma (e.g., intentional injuries), were assessed from 34 adult skeletal remains (males n=14, females n=20), including three vampires (males n=1, females n=2). Results (chi-square, p<0.05) indicate that there are no significant differences in the health of those interred with anti-vampiristic measures from the rest of the sample, at least as they are measured by these indicators. These results corroborate the assertion based on historical and cultural information that vampires were primarily culturally defined in this population and not necessarily biologically determined.

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