Sunday, September 18, 2011

Vampires and Zombies Through History

Vampires have been popular for some time, and zombies are experiencing a wave of popularity about now, too. Certainly, my two sons love to hack them to pieces in their favorite video games. So I was a little mystified this week when I was scanning through some science headlines, and saw one about zombies in medieval Ireland. It caught my attention, so I read on. Apparently, archeologists have been digging up graveyards in Ireland, and came across the skeletons of two men who had each been buried with a rock shoved into his mouth.

That sounds strange to me, but apparently it's a known thing to archeologists who dig up graves in Europe. During the plague, people were buried in mass graves. Mass graves would be opened up periodically to add more bodies, and those already in the grave would be in various stages of decay. Some of them might be bloated, with blood emerging from the mouth, and these, it was believed at the time, were vampires. A brick or rock would be shoved into the 'sleeping' vampire's mouth so that they would starve to death.

But, those mass graves for the Black Plague were from the 14th & 15th centuries. These two men from Ireland were buried during the 8th century, long before rumors of vampires started making the rounds. So ... why did they have rocks shoved into their mouths?

The theory proposed in this article was that people of that time found comfort in having things be 'normal'. People and things that did not fit the pattern of life that they knew filled them with dread and suspicion. Sudden death, such as from heart attack or murder, might have meant the dead would arise from the grave and harass the living. Even if that person's soul did not return to the body, an evil spirit could do so, by way of the body's mouth. So a rock was shoved into that 'doorway' to keep that from happening.

Now, I always thought 'zombies' had started in the Caribbean after Africans were brought in as slaves, and that the historical Dracula lived before 1000 BC. But it looks like 'the walking dead' were feared before 1000 BC, and a quick check of history reveals that Dracula lived in the mid-15th century. Always check your facts, I guess.

And I used to wonder what 'research' a fiction writer was supposed to do.

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