The 85th Annual Meeting of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists (2016)

The diseased, the disabled and vampires in early medieval Culmine in Poland


Department of Anthropology, Nicolaus Copernicus University

April 15, 2016 14, Atrium Ballroom A/B Add to calendar

Historical evidence suggests that after death, some people were thought to become vampires causing harm or death to the living. Consequently, people became afraid of vampires and tried to render them harmless using elaborate burial and anti-vampire practices. Some disabilities and diseases (especially tuberculosis, anemia and scurvy) have symptoms that are similar to some of the characteristic features of the appearance associated with vampires.

We investigated if people with such disabilities and diseases were buried in anti-vampire graves. In this way, we also analyzed the perception of the diseased and the disabled. We analyzed 653 graves, including 14 anti-vampire ones and 661 skeletons from the early medieval (10th-13th century) cemeteries in Culmine (Poland). Anti-vampire practices from Culmine include decapitation, face down burial, and placing stones on the body. Our methods of research include the quantitative and the qualitative analyses of pathological lesions and mortuary evidence.

Significantly more people buried in anti-vampire graves (N=11) had pathological lesions that indicate diseases (chi2 test, p<0.005). But the qualitative analysis showed that they suffered from very common afflictions such as degenerative lesions, periosteal reactions, and injuries. Most people suffering from peculiar and serious diseases and disabilities were not given anti-vampire burials. Only 2 out of the 40 disabled were buried in anti-vampire graves. We conclude that diseases and disabilities were not associated with vampirism. People were probably used to the different appearance and the functioning of the diseased and the disabled and did not perceive them as vampires.

This work is supported by the National Science Centre from Poland under grant UMO-2014/13/N/HS3/04602.