One of my favorite columns is the NCBI ROFL series from Discoblog. Yesterday’s post is a case in point example. The May 2012 issue of the Journal of Forensic Sciences included an interpretation of the 2009 finding of a medieval plague burial site including a female individual with a brick in her mouth. The burial site dates to 1576. After ruling out that the brick could not have accidentally fallen into this dead lady’s mouth, and understanding of this ritual was built,
“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.
It is not strange that superstitions concerning vampires were widespread in the 16th to 17th centuries even in a “cosmopolitan” and evolved city like Venice. It is surprising, however, that this exorcism ritual has been clearly recognized in an archaeological context: the ID 6 grave could well be the first “vampire” burial archaeologically attested and studied by a forensic odontological and anthropological approach.”
Minozzi, S., Fornaciari, A., & Fornaciari, G. (2012). Commentary on: Nuzzolese E, Borrini M. Forensic approach to an archaeological casework of “vampire” skeletal remains in Venice: odontological and anthropological prospectus. J Forensic Sci 2010; 55(6):1634-37 Journal of Forensic Sciences, 57 (3), 843-844 DOI: 10.1111/j.1556-4029.2012.02100.x