Last month, we posted a story about the Serbian village of Zarožje, when town officials issued a warning about a vampire that may have been disturbed. To get the lowdown on such superstitions, National Geographic News talked to Mark Collins Jenkins, author of the book Vampire Forensics, and forensic archeologist and anthropologist Matteo Borrini.
Is it crazy that the town council issued a public health warning?
MCJ: Historically speaking, it's not that crazy. In past centuries, outbreaks of vampire hysteria, especially in Central and Eastern Europe, often coincided with outbreaks of tuberculosis and deadly plagues. Peasants had no other way of explaining why everyone was dropping dead but by blaming it on witches and vampires or other supernatural creatures. In 19th-century New England, tuberculosis wasted entire families, one after another. Superstitious people believed that the first to die was somehow feeding on his surviving family members. (Related: "'Vampire of Venice' Unmasked: Plague Victim & Witch?")
Why did people begin believing in vampires?
MB: Especially between the 16th and 18th centuries, little was known about what happens to the body after death. During plagues and epidemics, mass graves were continually reopened to bury new dead. People sometimes exhumed the bodies of the diseased to look for possible causes. Reports about vampires describe exhumations weeks or months after death, during the body's decay.
MCJ: Bodies weren't embalmed back then. They rot, to be quite frank, in grossly different ways. If a bunch of people in the village started dying in mysterious ways, they'd dig up the first one to die, see that his corpse didn't look quite right, assume that was blood flowing down those cheeks (it's called purge fluid in modern forensics, a natural byproduct of decomposition, but it's not blood), and generally burn the body. End of vampire.
Read the rest at NatGeo. Link