That bites! Vampires used to get bricked

March 09, 2009 | 3:53 p.m.


A sucker born every minute? The magazine called New Scientist has a story with the headline “‘Vampire’ found in mass grave” but, well, really it’s about some poor 16th century soul who was buried with a brick shoved in her mouth.

A skeleton exhumed from a grave in Venice is being claimed as the first known example of the “vampires” widely referred to in contemporary documents.

Matteo Borrini of the University of Florence in Italy found the skeleton of a woman with a small brick in her mouth while excavating mass graves of plague victims from the Middle Ages on Lazzaretto Nuovo Island in Venice.

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. Borrini, who presented his findings at a meeting of the American Academy of Forensic Sciences in Denver, Colo., last week, claims this might be the first such vampire to have been forensically examined. The skeleton was removed from a mass grave of victims of the Venetian plague of 1576.

However, Peer Moore-Jansen of Wichita State University in Kansas says he has found similar skeletons in Poland and that while Borrini’s finding is exciting, “claiming it as the first vampire is a little ridiculous”.

Borrini says his study details the earliest grave to show archaeological “exorcism evidence against vampires.”.

In related news, “New Moon,” the second “Twilight” film, is due in theaters on Nov. 20.

— Geoff Boucher


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Photos (top, from left): Bela Lugosi, from Los Angeles Times archives; Gary Oldman in “Bram Stoker’s Dracula,” courtesy Columbia Pictures; Max Schreck in “Nosferatu,” from Los Angeles Times archives; Kiefer Sutherland in “The Lost Boys,” courtesy of Warner Bros.; The Count, courtesy of Children’s Television Workshop. Photo (bottom): Portrait of Vlad III, circa 1560, by unknown artist.

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2 Responses to That bites! Vampires used to get bricked

  1. AT says:

    Although Dr Borrini's discovery is interesting, he will need to support it with archaeological, anthropological, forensic and literary facts. I have devoted my PhD research and career in the study of unusual burials, including the so-called 'vampire burials', and the standards required to prove such cases are very high and demanding (see e.g.…. I have never heard of the tradition of placing a brick in the mouth, so a scientific bibliographic reference by Dr Borrini would be most welcome . On the photo, it is not clear that this is a brick and not a stone either.
    In addition, Dr Borrini is mistaken to claim that this is 'the first such "vampire" to have been forensically examined'. I had presented a paper on the subject at a conference in Chieti, Italy, in 2000 and subsequently published it in 2001:…. It is a fact that there have been previous such cases discovered and examined by e.g. Dr Sledzik and Dr Bellantoni in New England in 1994, Prof. Hector Williams and Dr Sandra Garvie-Lok in Greece in the late '80s and myself in Greece during my PhD research.

  2. thesis paper says:

    Wonderful article, thanks for putting this together! "This is obviously one great post. Thanks for the valuable information and insights you have so provided here. Keep it up!"

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