This 16th-century woman, whose remains were excavated during an archaeological dig near Venice, apparently had a brick shoved into her trap because she was thought to have a thirst for human blood. Scholars trace the myth that humans rise from the dead and suck the blood of others to medieval ignorance about how diseases spread and bodies decompose. When mass graves were re-opened during epidemics to deposit fresh corpses, the diggers often encountered older, bloated bodies with blood seeping out of their mouths — conditions that scientists now know result from the buildup of gases in decomposing organs.
In earlier times, however, this was regarded as a sign that the corpses were drinking the blood of others.
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Medieval Italians thought that the only known way to kill the undead was to stick a brick in their mouths so that they would starve, according to Matteo Borrini, a forensic archaeologist and anthropologist at Florence University. Bloodthirsty bats entered the vampire mythology when explorers of the New World returned to Europe in the 15th and 16th centuries with tales of winged mammals that fed on the blood of humans and their livestock under the cover of night, biologist Bill Schutt says in his book "Dark Banquet. Bats were prime candidates for superstition and unwarranted fear, and they would become forever linked to vampyrism in with the publication of Bram Stoker's novel, 'Dracula,'" he writes.
The Dracula character was inspired by a 15th-century Romanian warlord who impaled his victims with a wooden stake and then covered the landscape with the decaying bodies to scare off his enemies. This warlord was named Vlad III. Vlad II, his father, was indoctrinated into the Order of the Dragon around and was thereafter known as Vlad Dracul. Those who preferred to avoid the "impaler" title instead called him Dracula, which translates to "son of the Dragon.
An Internet search on the words porphyria and vampire results in hundreds of links to Web pages explaining — and often debunking — the association between the group of rare blood disorders and the origins of vampire myths. Porphyrias are characterized by irregularities in the conversion of chemical compounds called porphryins into a substance called heme, an iron-rich pigment in the blood.
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This irregularity causes a buildup of porphryins. Symptoms of some forms of porphyria include sensitivity to sunlight, a la Dracula, that causes skin rashes such as the one shown here. A few scholars have suggested that vampires of folklore actually suffered porphyria and sought to treat themselves by drinking blood. Barber notes in his Skeptical Inquirer essay that this idea is widely perpetuated "even though we have no evidence either that drinking blood would alleviate the symptoms of porphyria or that any live people were accused of drinking blood — it was always corpses.
Perhaps sucking sounds sexier than licking — but truth be told, vampire bats lick their victims' blood instead of sucking it down, according to scientists who study the creatures.
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London: Kegan Paul, Trench, Trubner, A rich source of historical detail concerning vampires, the study ends with a chapter on the vampire in literature. Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content on this page. Please subscribe or login. Oxford Bibliographies Online is available by subscription and perpetual access to institutions.
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Sign in with your library card. Martin, Fevre Dream S. Somtow, Vampire Junction Poppy Z. Introduction Although historical anthropologists have traced back mythological tales of vampires and vampire-like creatures to ancient Greco-Roman civilization, it was not until the Romantic period in Britain that the vampire became a distinct and significant fictional trope. Pre-History of the Fictional Vampire Although the vampire, from the middle of the 19th century onward, was largely a prose-based phenomenon, its English literary origins might be said to lie not in fiction but in the poetic output of Romantic writers such as Robert Southey in Thalaba the Destroyer , Lord Byron in The Giaour , Samuel Taylor Coleridge in Christabel , and John Keats in Lamia How to Subscribe Oxford Bibliographies Online is available by subscription and perpetual access to institutions.
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