Vampires from Drawsko
The notion of vampirism has existed in many cultures in various places and times. The notion was also present in beliefs of Slavic speaking peoples inhabiting Central, Eastern and Southern Europe in historic times. Among Slavs peopling the territory of contemporary Poland the belief in vampirism was connected with pagan spiritualism and spread after introducing Christianity (X–XI century AD) which introduced inhumation and caused giving up a custom of cremating dead bodies. For centuries folk beliefs hold that certain persons after their death can be dangerous to other people, especially to their relatives (family members, neighbors) by haunting the living. A vampire (vampir) was believed to be the manifestation of an unclean spirit possessing a decomposing body. This undead creature was considered to be vengeful and jealous towards the living and needing the blood of the living to sustain its body's existence (blood was perceived as life essence). Vampires went out of their graves at night to suck the blood of the living, after which they returned to their cemeteries. They were also accused of pressing on people in their sleep, causing diseases (e.g. epidemics) and even death of people and livestock.
Into vampires turned persons who died of unusual death (e.g. committed suicide, drowned in water, unbaptized), or were evil beings (e.g. witches). To destroy vampires and protect the living against them various actions were undertaken. The most common was:
- Burning the corpse
- Cutting of a head (decapitation) with the head buried between the feet, behind the buttocks or away from the body
- Burying the corpse upside-down with face turned to the bottom of the grave
- Staking a corpse or a head with a wooden peg (especially ash) or metal object (e.g. knife, nail).
- Covering a grave with a pile of stones
- Tying up a body
- Putting stones or coins into mouths
- Placing poppy seeds, millet, or sand on the ground
- Placing apotropaic objects such as scythes or sickles
Usually graves of vampires were situated at the outskirts of the cemetery and were not accompanied by any grave goods. Scientists perceive the belief in vampirism as an attempt by people of pre-industrial societies to explain the natural, but to them inexplicable, process of death and decomposition of the body. Some reasons for the belief in vampirism are as follows:
- cases of not decomposing bodies
- premature burials (cases of individuals being buried alive)
- deaths from unidentifiable or mysterious illnesses within the same family or community
- outbreaks of epidemics
- sufferers of porphyria disease.
The motif of vampires and vampirism is present in modern fiction novels and films (a distinctive vampire genre). As the quintessential vampire novel Bram Stoker's Dracula (1897), tells a story about count Dracula living in Transylvania (the Carpathian Mountains).
In 1922, a silent film (Nosferatu, directed by F. W. Murnau) was released based on this novel (Figure 1); this film was later remade as Nosferatu the Vampyre in 1979 by Werner Herzog.
Because many known anti-vampire practices leave material traces in some cases it is possible to identify graves in which persons suspected of vampirism were buried. During the Mortuary Archaeology Field School excavations on XVII–XVIII century AD inhumation cemetery in Drawsko, three certain cases of burials of vampires were identified. All of them were extended inhumations, supine with heads oriented towards west facing east. Two of them were buried with iron sickles placed around their necks (grave 28/2008, figure 4; grave 24/2009, figure 5 and 6), one was buried with the body tied up and stones put on the throat (grave 29/2008, figure 2 and 3). Two vampiric entities buried with sickles were mature adults, the one buried with stones put on throat was a young adult. Placing sharp, iron objects in graves was connected with their protective functions (apotropaic — objects having ability to ward off evil). Furthermore, the act of burying sharp objects, such as sickles, in with the corpse was a way of „deflating” the bloated vampire. It is possible that other vampire graves will be found in the coming years.