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A headless skeleton, Suffolk, England (representational). Credit: Archaeological Solutions.

450 Headless ‘Vampire’ Skeletons Unearthed in Mass Grave in Poland

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Archaeologists in Poland have excavated what is being called a “mass-suspected vampire grave.” With their decapitated skulls lodged between their legs, and coins in their mouths, every effort was taken to hinder these 450 ‘perceived’ monsters from rising from their graves.

Polish legends describe “Vjesci” (vampires) as pale figures haunting moonlit streets, and as bloodthirsty creatures lurking in ancient crypts, emerging at nightfall to prey upon unsuspecting souls. But now, the remains of 450 suspected vampires, and a huge pile of loose bones deposited in three ossuaries, has been unearthed by road workers near a 19th-century cemetery in the village of Luzino, in the northeast of Poland.

Among the many reasons these 450 buried corpses are being called “vampires,” is because every recovered body was decapitated, with the skull placed between the legs and a coin set in the mouth. It is well established that these burial practices were all preventative measures, taken specifically to stop the undead returning from the grave to terrorize the living.

Huge mass of ‘vampire’ skeletons found in Poland. Credit: Maciej Stromski

Huge mass of ‘vampire’ skeletons found in Poland. Credit: Maciej Stromski

Negating The Vampire’s Curse

Poland’s The First News reported that the discovery of 450 suspected vampires was made in the village of Luzino.  The fact that their skulls were placed between their legs, and coins placed in their mouths, reveals how the living ‘victims of vampires’ reacted to the curse. In a press release, Polish Archaeologist Maciej Stromski said a team of researchers discovered many examples of “belief in the dead returning from the grave,” which he said “could only be stopped by decapitation.”

In a Daily Mail article, Stromski explains that in rural 19th-century Poland, it was common practice to behead vampires. Moreover, the act of placing a coin in the mouth was believed to negate a vampire's curse, depowering it from returning from the dead, and spreading its disease among the living.

Hindering The Vjescis Return

Dr Stromski said that evidence of decapitation after death is rare. The archaeologist explained that people believed, members of the deceased's family that died shortly after the vampire’s funeral, might also be vampires. “Therefore, after burial, the grave was dug up and the deceased's head was cut off, which was then placed in the legs,” said Stromski.

So deep rooted was the belief in the vampire’s curse, in Poland, that the archaeologists discovered the remains of a decapitated woman with “the skull of a child positioned on her bosom.” And another extreme social reaction to the vampire curse, according to Dr Stromski, was that about 30% percent of the skeletons uncovered, “had bricks placed next to the legs, arms and heads”.

Bricking-In Evil Souls

Various methods were developed across Europe to prevent vampires from returning from the dead. Some common practices included placing objects such as garlic, crucifixes, or holy water near the deceased person's body. But other, more extreme methods, included decapitation, a wooden stake driven through the heart, the burning of ‘cursed’ remains, and the use of steel rods for pinning down, or locking vampires in their graves.

According to folklore in several regions of Poland, bricks hold a mysterious power over vampires, and people believed certain types of brick prevented vampires from returning from the dead. The origin of this belief probably relates to the specific composition, or perceived enchantment, within the bricks, which were used as spiritual barriers, confining the undead vampires to their resting places, and hindering them from returning to spread chaos in the realm of the living.

 A 17th century vampire grave discovered in Poland in 2022 included the remains of a female vampire pinned to the ground with a sickle across her throat. Source: Mirosław Blicharski / Aleksander Poznań

 A 17 th century vampire grave discovered in Poland in 2022 included the remains of a female vampire pinned to the ground with a sickle across her throat. Source: Mirosław Blicharski / Aleksander Poznań

No Mention of Consumption?

In many folkloric systems around the world, the vampire described disease-stricken people suffering consumption (tuberculosis). Because the symptoms of tuberculosis, such as pale skin, coughing up blood, and a wasting appearance matched the characteristics attributed to vampires in folklore,individuals who died from consumption were often thought of as having died from the ‘vampire’s curse’.

However, the origins of vampire legends and beliefs varied across different cultures, and in Poland, not all vampire folklore was inspired by consumption. In 19th-century Poland, vampires were regarded as supernaturally reanimated corpses, returning from the dead to prey on the living. Therefore, not exclusively tied to any specific medical condition like consumption. History records churchmen identifying the vampire’s curse marked on the skulls of newborns, believing not that vampirism was an illness, but that vampires were born from anti-Christian blood lineages.

Top image: A headless skeleton, Suffolk, England (representational). Credit: Archaeological Solutions.

By Ashley Cowie

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Ashley is a Scottish historian, author, and documentary filmmaker presenting original perspectives on historical problems in accessible and exciting ways.

He was raised in Wick, a small fishing village in the county of Caithness on the north east coast of... Read More

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