This is Part 1 of a 3 part series, Smells Like Terror, about spooky science.

In the early 1990’s archaeologists unearthed a vampire’s grave in Connecticut. True story. The grave was found during an excavation of a small family burial ground in Griswold, Connecticut that was threatened by an expanding sand and gravel business. It contained the skeletal remains of a man who had died in the mid-1800′s. Initials on the coffin identified the man as JB. His leg bones and skull had been rearranged to form a skull and crossbones while the other bones were in dissarray. It was the first physical evidence archaeologists have found of a historical belief in vampires in southern New England.

The vampires that terrified people in rural 19th century New England weren’t the same as the Dracula-type vampires that fascinate people today. They certainly didn’t resemble the sparkly vampires from Twilight. New England vampires were usually victims of consumption, now known as tuberculosis, a disease that causes otherwise healthy adults to waste away. Following a family member’s death from consumption, other family members often began to exhibit symptoms of the disease. Keep in mind that people at the time didn’t have a firm understanding of how contagious diseases spread. So they attributed these new symptoms to the vampirism of their recently deceased relative. They thought that their dead family member had come back to life and was feeding on them, slowly draining their life away. In those days the most common way to kill a suspected vampire was to dig up the vampire’s body and burn it’s heart. Or burn the entire body. An 1854 newspaper article from a nearby town describes a vampire panic that resulted in the burning of two exhumed corpses.

But what about JB? Based on lesions or marks on JB’s ribs archaeologists determined that he had suffered and probably died from tuberculosis, which would qualify him as a potential vampire. But he wasn’t burned, he was just rearranged into a skull and crossbones. Archaeologists think that some of JB’s family members may have begun to show signs of tuberculosis several months or even years after his death. His family naturally assumed JB had turned into a vampire and dug him up to burn his heart. But when they opened the coffin all that remained of JB was his skeleton. In a desperate attempt to prevent him from escaping from the grave and feeding on the living they rearranged the bones before reburying him.

While all of this may seem ridiculous to us today, at the time people didn’t understand how disease spread, and they were terrified during disease epidemics. Vampirism, while seemingly outlandish, was a way for people to turn an epidemic into something understandable – something that they could potentially control.

Read more about the Connecticut vampire burial in the American Journal of Physical Anthropology (PDF)

Sledzik, P., & Bellantoni, N. (1994). Bioarcheological and biocultural evidence for the New England vampire folk belief American Journal of Physical Anthropology, 94 (2), 269-274 DOI: 10.1002/ajpa.1330940210

  4 Responses to “Archaeologists Unearth a “Vampire” Grave”

  1. i beleive in vampires and i was wondering what country would i have to go to to resarch and maybe find vampire books and history? xx.

    • Bulgaria, which has excavated more than 100 corpses of vampires. Eastern Europe is also the area of the vampire origins.

  2. Transylvania my dear…. but beware the reality is cold, deep, and hard to fathom. Also the stench may not come out in one wash. The expression “smells like a grave” comes to mind. Forget the sparkles of “Twilight” for a moment and imagine the most frightened you’ve ever been. Now multiply that by a nice prime number and watch your hair turn white. Scared yet? No? Read further. They say the cheapest way to travel is to read a book as you know but maybe do a search on a popular online retailer, and poke around reading the reviews. Finally, decide on something not much more than twenty dollars. If this does not satisfy your curiosity most good books have recommended reading sections in the back or within the text itself and remember you can always close a book but not always a grave.

  3. I have to say that the first origins of Vampires is listed by the Sumerian race back some 4000.BC and that is fact, after that they are mentioned in Egyptian times, but the father of any Vampire would be Cain from the bible, yes the one that killed his own brother the one that married his own sister and bore nine offspring with her, one of these is said to have been unholy, and is the first probable real vampire since if Vampires did or even do exist today it is most likely down to him, it is said that the first werewolf was born from a vampire mating with a woman of the night, and whether it be fact or fiction they both originate from folklore, yet in all folklore there is some fact so not all is fiction there is some truth in all fictional things, hence both Vampire and werewolf have existed at some time and there is somewhere on the internet a full genealogy of real vampires and werewolves that run down the family tree to such people as Al Capone and certain presidents of countries, not that this is what they are today but they are said to be descended from vampires and werewolves, if you want to see this for yourself search out the genealogical history of werewolves and vampires.
    I can say for certain that if you travel to the check republic then go to the black forest you will find there at least 16 bodies of real vampires that were nailed into their coffins they were face down and had a stake of wood through their hearts,
    Their hands and feet were both nailed down and their heads had large rocks on then to stop them from ever rising from their coffins, this is fact not fiction, they are also buried in unconsecrated ground the area is fenced off from people and it has gates you are not permitted to enter at night.
    As soon as the sun begins to sink in the night sky the gates are closed these gates form a huge cross when closed and on moonlit nights the cross shines across the graves so as to keep them in their coffins.there are crosses all around the graveyard so as to stop them on every turn.

 Leave a Reply

(required)

(required, will be kept private)

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>