Bulgarian 'Indiana Jones' unearths medieval 'vampire' grave

Bulgarian 'Indiana Jones' unearths medieval 'vampire' grave
A male skeleton from the 13th century with a plowshare driven through its ribcage has been excavated in the eastern European region in which the first reports of vampires originated nearly a millennium ago.

"We have no doubts that once again we’re seeing an anti-vampire ritual being carried out," Nikolay Ovcharov, a celebrity archaeologist, told the Daily Telegraph. He accidentally struck upon the burial site while excavating the remains of the much older Thracian city of Perperikon, not far from Bulgaria’s border with Greece.

Ovcharov said the 2lb (1kg) iron rod had been hammered into the chest of the man – thought to have been between 40 and 50 at the time of death – and a part of the left leg below the knee was separately placed next to the rest of the skeleton. It is presumed that the leg may have been sawn off, to stop the vampire from 'escaping’ the grave.

"Often these rituals were applied to people who had died in unusual circumstances, such as suicide," said Ovcharov.

While the find appears unusual, Bozhidar Dimitrov, head of the National History Museum in the Bulgarian capital, Sofia, said that at least 100 such corpses have been discovered by archaeologists within the country’s borders.

Members of the media surround a skeleton pierced with a piece of iron, on display during a media event at the National History Museum in Sofia.(Reuters / Stoyan Nenov)
The media paid particular attention to the ‘Twin Vampires of Sozopol’, two corpses discovered in 2012 and 2013, also bearing evidence of gruesome burial rituals.

In the earlier find, the feet of the man had been tied together, to complement the plowshare. In the second one, where an unusually tall 5’11” (180cm) skeleton was found – supposedly belonging to a notorious 13th-century pirate by the name of Krivich – a specially-processed stone had been laid across his chest. The diggers have said that sometimes a cat or a chicken was also buried next to the dead bodies, to 'watch over' the vampire.

Ovcharov has played a key role in many of the finds in the past three decades. With his media-friendly persona, and his penchant for sand-colored fedoras, the scientist, himself the son of a renowned archaeologist, has earned routine comparisons to Indiana Jones.

Unfortunately, archeological digs are plagued by illegal intruders in Bulgaria. It is estimated that 300 gangs of undercover tomb raiders operate in the country, making at least 30 million euro a year collectively, according to Dimitrov. These unlicensed groups, which often wreck precious historical sites, digging carelessly under the cover of night, extract precious artifacts – including Roman coins, and Thracian armor – before exporting them under false documents to be sold in auctions elsewhere, or directly to rich Middle Eastern collectors.

A view of the necropolis (L) in the ancient city of Perperikon.(AFP Photo / Dimitar Dilkoff)
Ovacharov has made it his life’s work to protect and reconstruct the site of Perperikon, the site of many of the vampire finds. A center of civilization as long as 5,000 years ago, it is thought to have been the host to wild, orgiastic ceremonies praising the god Dionysus, as well as being the birthplace of legendary poet Orpheus. Later it became home to a massive Roman palace and after that Byzantine basilicas.

“It rivals Machu Picchu. Bulgarian archaeology has enormous potential. It can change the way people think about this country. It can give us national pride as well as bringing in a lot of wealth,” said Ovcharov in an interview with the Independent last year, outlining his vision that would see illegal diggers replaced with millions of tourists, currently unaware of Bulgaria’s complex history, on the edge of the Oriental and Western civilizations.

Nikolay Ovcharov (Image from wikipedia.org)