May 26, 2018 | Updated: 09:54 AM EDT

Polish “Vampires” Discovered in Crypts, and They May Have Had Cholera

Nov 26, 2014 06:03 PM EST

For those who are avid viewers of works of independent horror films, many know that Poland is often the back-drop for some of the most terrifying tales of local folklore and blood-sucking creatures of the night. And there's a reason behind the madness. Dating back to the 17th and 18th centuries, stories of vampires have abounded in the region, leading to a uniquely deviant form of burials that are intended to keep proposed vampires in their crypts.

Local folklore passes down tales of burials where stones were placed in the mouths of the deceased, or sickles were placed across their necks, in order to deter them from rising from their death places. But science has yet discover the truth behind the urban legends. That is, until the first biogeochemical study to examine the human skeletal remains from deviant burial-grounds recently revealed that so-called "vampires" may have just been afflicted with a disease of another form, not a thirst for blood.

Published this week in the journal PLOS ONE, researchers from the University of South Alabama, along with international colleagues in anthropology, studied 285 skeletal remains, uncovered between 2008 and 2012 from a post-medieval cemetery in Drawsko, Poland. And what they found was that amongst the strange graves were men and women of varying ages, as young as preteens.

"Of these six individuals, five were interred with a sickle placed across the throat or abdomen, intended to remove the head or open the gut, should they attempt to rise from the grave" researcher, Lesley Gregoricka says.

When first uncovering the crypts, Gregoricka and her colleagues first hypothesized that the status of "vampire" may have been attributed to outsiders in large influx to the region. In fact, there is abundant written documentation of waves of immigrants entering Poland during that time. And in order to test their theory, the researchers tested permanent molars retrieved from the corpses, using radiogenic strontium isotope ratios from archaeological dental enamel to trace their origins. And perhaps, in the process, trace back the legends and the culprits behind some of the earliest accounts of human monsters - vampires.

What they found in the mass graveyard was that the "vampires" were likely victims who died of cholera, an untimely killer... Either that, or the hordes of townspeople with pitchforks helped them into their early graves.

"While historic records describe the many potential reasons why some people were considered at increased risk of becoming a vampire" Gregoricka says, "no previous study has attempted to examine the identity of these individuals using chemical analyses of the human skeleton."

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