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vampire-like graves

(AP Photo)

Among more than 600 rather typical graves found in a church graveyard in the Bulgarian Black Sea town of Sozopol were a pair of skeletons bearing witness that at least two of the town's inhabitants were thought to require special treatment after death. One of the skeletons had a plowshare-like object driven through the left side of his rib cage, while the other had an unidentifiable metal object in his solar plexus. According to archaeologist Dimitar Nedev, head of the Sozopol Archaeological Museum, who found the skeletons, these burials are evidence of protection against vampirism—the belief that the dead would leave their graves.

The site includes two overlapping churches in use from the sixth to seventeenth centuries, and although Nedev was able to date the two graves to the fourteenth century, he says there is little information about who they might have belonged to. During the Middle Ages, Bulgaria was famous for practicing Manichean Bogomilism. The sect called for a return to the teachings of early Christianity and a rejection of the political ambitions of the reigning ecclesiastical authorities, Nedev says. "The Christian rituals practiced then—and now—still included many pagan elements," he explains. Such rituals are "particularly well preserved" in the Sozopol site, as well as in the surrounding Strandzha region.

Bulgaria has some 100 other known "vampire" burials, but Nedev is quick to take a friendly jab at the "explosive" interest at the Sozopol site vampires. "It is not as if the word ‘vampire' was written on their foreheads or they had very long teeth," he says with a smile.