The Italian Almanac
The remains of a `vampire` have been found in a grave in Venice lagoon, an Italian forensic anthropologist has claimed. Matteo Borrini of Florence University said he and his team discovered the skeleton of a woman dating to the Middle Ages whose skull had been impaled through the mouth with a brick - a traditional method of ensuring undead bloodsuckers could no longer feed.
Borrini told a meeting of the American Academy of Forensic Sciences in Denver that when Europe was in the grips of the plague there was a widespread belief that the disease was spread by female vampires. This idea probably originated from the dribble of blood that often came from the mouths of plague victims when they died. It was thought that these vampires, who were buried next to the bodies of plague victims, fed on their dead neighbours until they felt strong enough to rise from the grave and begin feeding on the living, perpetuating the cycle of contamination.Gravediggers were therefore responsible for identifying possible vampire women among the dead by signs of shroud-chewing around the mouth and impaling them with a brick to stop them feeding.
The woman`s skeleton was found in mass grave of victims of the Venetian plague of 1576 - in which the artist Titian also died - on the small island of Lazzaretto Nuovo. Venice authorities had designated the island a quarantine hospital in 1468 following an earlier plague epidemic. Borrini said gravediggers had shoved the brick into the woman`s mouth with such force that it had broken some of her teeth. When a later wave of the Black Death swept through Venice between 1630 and 1631, the epidemic claimed 50,000 of the cosmopolitan city`s 150,000 inhabitants - or one in three people.
Legends of vampirism has existed for millennia in various civilisations but the modern figure of the vampire originates with stories from the early 18th century Balkans and Eastern Europe. After a spate of alleged sightings, vampire frenzy spread to Western Europe and was later popularised in Bram Stoker`s 1897 novel Dracula.