Archaeologists in Poland believe they have found a vampire grave near the town of Gilwice in southern Poland. The skeletons were found with their heads removed and placed between their legs — a ritualistic practice designed to keep the dead from rising up.
In addition, the remains were found with no jewelry, belt buckles, or anything that would indicate a traditional burial. Rituals like these were commonly practiced by Slavic peoples — what Poles call “antywampiryczny” — in the decades following the adoption of Christianity by pagan tribes.
Another possibility is that this was just a standard execution. The victims were were hanged and simply left on the gallows until they naturally fell down.
The skeletons are believed to date from around the 16th or 17th centuries.
Indeed, vampire graves are not so uncommon. Archaeologists recently exhumed suspected vampire skeletons in Bulgaria — including iron rods thrust through the chest. Incredibly, ritual staking can be traced as far back as 1,500 years ago. Going even further back in time, archaeologists recently found a 4,000 year-old grave in the Czech Republic in which the skeleton had been weighed down at the head and chest by two large stones. The people of 8th century Ireland curbed zombie uprisings by ramming rocks into the mouths of their dead.
National Geographic offers some further insights:
Most archaeologists now think that a belief in vampires arose from common misunderstandings about diseases such as tuberculosis, and from a lack of knowledge about the process of decomposition.
Although most 19th-century Americans and Europeans were familiar with changes in the human body immediately following death, they rarely observed what happened in the grave during the following weeks and months.
For one thing, rigor mortis eventually disappears, resulting in flexible limbs. For another, the gastrointestinal tract begins to decay, producing a dark fluid that could be easily mistaken for fresh blood during exhumation—creating the appearance of a postprandial vampire.