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Wednesday, February 25, 2009

You don't expect to learn about vampires at a forensics meeting, but they were a hot topic of conversation at the American Academy of Forensics annual meeting in Denver last week.

I'd never really thought about where the original vampire legend might have emerged from, but the appearance of bodies as they decompose might have been one source of inspiration.

Here are some gruesome things that happen to bodies as they begin to decompose:
1) Blood and other bodily fluids leak out of the mouth and nose

2) Bacterial activity causes the stomach and intestines to bloat

3) Guttural sounds sometimes emanate from the corpse triggered by the release of gases - these have been described as groaning or sighing sounds

4) Nails and beard appear to continue to grow after death (it's actually a myth that growth continues: the extension of hair and nails is an illusion)

Put these things together, and you might interpret the dead being not so dead after all, and before you know it, you'd be concluding that the corpses are bloated from gorging on the blood of the living. Add to this the possibility that comatose or unconscious patients may have been mistakenly buried alive, and you have the "dead" rising again - when they woke up and realised there had been a terrible error of judgement.

Fear of vampires is still strong in some rural parts of Romania. In 2005, forensic scientists were called to a cemetery in the Romanian village of Marotinul de Sus, to examine a mutilated corpse. Plagued by sickness and nightmares after the death of their relative, a 76-year-old retired schoolteacher, a family had exhumed his corpse, driven a pitchfork into his chest, and then removed his heart.

This was then burned and the ashes mixed with peppermint schnapps, which the family drank. The corpse was then stabbed with wooden stakes, and garlic sprinkled over the body.

The six family members who participated in this "vampire slaying" were eventually caught and jailed, greatly angering the local villagers, who believed that they had performed a great service. The leader of the gang told police that the corpse had blood around his mouth, and had moaned when they stabbed him.


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