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Buried With a Brick in Her Mouth: Was This Centuries Old Corpse Buried as A Vampire?
by Susana Polo | 3:02 pm, May 17th, 2012
A few years ago anthropologists in Italy began excavating a mass grave from the 16th and 17th century: a prime Plauge victim era, and found, as they expected, many, many remains of plague victims from the various outbreaks of the virus from that time period. One body in particular, was unique in a very odd way: it had a brick in its mouth.
And though why it has a brick in its mouth is still puzzling anthropologists today, one particular theory has lent the body a certain notoriety: one of the prevailing theories is that it could be the first hard evidence of an actual vampire burial (which is to say, not a person who was a vampire, but a person who was buried in a particular way because the people who buried them thought they were a vampire) to be studied by scientists.
The argument for vampire burial goes thusly: since, based on the (brickless) content of the soil in the grave, it is very unlikely that the corpse’s mouth was maneuvered open and the brick maneuvered into it by soil shifting, erosion, or other natural forces, the brick was placed deliberately in the dead woman’s mouth. (Anthropologists were able to detect the gender of the skull from… well, the skull.)
So the question is, why? The argument brings up an obscure bit of vampire lore that was apparently well known at the time: that vampires, when buried, could cause the Plague by eating their own burial shroud; combined with the potential for the odd appearance of a partially decomposed corpse when unearthed at a mass grave while burying another.
We assume that during the digging of a hole in the ground for a person who had just died of the plague, the gravediggers cut off the ID 6 deposition. They noticed the shroud (its presence is suggested by the verticalization of the clavicle) and a hole, which corresponded with the mouth. As the body appeared as quite intact, they probably recognized in that body the so-called vampire, responsible for plague by chewing her shroud. As a consequence, they inserted a brick in her mouth. The sequence of those events (time since death) can be deduced by the lack of alteration on the skeleton joints, so that we can suppose that the gravediggers dealt with the corpse when it was not disjointed yet. The insertion of the brick into the mouth at the time of the primary deposition can be ruled out because we have no reference, even folkloric, for such a practice in that historical and cultural context.
This theory, naturally, is contested.
(More at Discovery Magazine.)
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