In a mass grave of 16th c. plague victims excavated in Venice, one of the interred was found with a brick jammed in her mouth.
Archaeologist Matteo Borrini thinks her survivors shoved a brick into her mouth because they thought she might turn vampire and spread more plague.
At the time the woman died, many people believed that the plague was spread by “vampires” which, rather than drinking people’s blood, spread disease by chewing on their shrouds after dying. Grave-diggers put bricks in the mouths of suspected vampires to stop them doing this, Borrini says.
The belief in vampires probably arose because blood is sometimes expelled from the mouths of the dead, causing the shroud to sink inwards and tear.
He claims this is the earliest vampire-treated remains, but similar finds have been made elsewhere, including by Peer Moore-Jansen of Wichita State University who scoffs at the “first vampire” claim.
Borrini is undaunted, insisting that his study reveals that this Venetian lady who died in 1575 is the first one to provide archaeological evidence of anti-vampiric exorcism.
The whole thing seems tenuous to me. Vampire legends were pretty much all over the map until Bram Stoker sealed the 19th c. Transylvanian version into the popular consciousness. The post-mortem shroud chewers sending plague vibes out from underground bear little resemblance to what people today think of as vampires.
There may just be a wee drappie of sensationalism driving Prof. Borrini’s claim. And understandably so given the sweet press he’s gotten.