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Vampires: the Celtic Connection

Evidence shows migrating tribes may have spread the vampire myth around Europe. By Gabriel Ronay in Budapest

A 4000-year-old "vampire" grave, believed to be the world's first burial place for one of the presumed "undead", has been discovered in eastern Europe.

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It bares spookily similar hallmarks to Celtic tombs in the British Isles designed to prevent bloodsucking "revenants".

These were recently buried people who were believed to rise from the grave, walk the earth and prey on the living.

The discovery of the grave during a routine archaeological dig of an early Bronze Age burial site in Mikulovice, eastern Bohemia, in the Czech Republic means that Dracula and the rest of his vampiric brood can now trace their bloodline back at least 4000 years.

During their explorations, archaeolgists in charge of the dig found the grave of a man whose skeleton showed the unmistakable tell-tale signs that his community had believed him to be a vampire and carried out certain specific rituals designed to keep the corpse in its grave after death.

On opening the grave, which was set well apart from others nearby, the archaeologists found that the skeleton had been weighted down to prevent it returning to haunt the living.

The only people in Europe to carry out such rituals on suspected vampires were the ancient Irish. The Irish kingdom of Dalriada stretched from present-day Northern Ireland into western Scotland.

Radko Sedlacek, the curator of the East Bohemia, Museum said: "Fearing that he might return from the grave, the dead man was sent on his final journey weighed down with a huge stone on his chest and another one on his head. Only the bodies of people believed to be vampires were given such treatment."

In an ancient ritual which continued in some places until the 17th century, the Irish used to weigh down the bodies of suspected Dearg-dul vampires with stones.

The "Celtic connection" seems to imply that there is a connection between the Bohemian grave and the Irish burials. Migrating Celtic tribes travelling westerly through Europe and heading towards Ireland and Scotland may well have brought their anti-vampire traditions with them to the British isles. The Bohemian vampire grave seems to give this theory weight.

Such strange burial practices were a defence against revenants from the grave. This may indicate ancient cannibal practices with early proto-Celtic tribesmen then living in the region supplementing their meagre crops, or poor hunting hauls, with human blood when times got hard.

Sedlacek believes that the Mikulovice find is the oldest ever grave of a supposed "vampire". The Celts weren't the only people, however, to have a culture including those who feast on human blood. In the lore of ancient Greece and Rome, several classical writers, including Euripides, Horace and Ovid, refer to these "pernicious bloodsucking monsters" in their work some two millennia ago.

The fears of Neolithic and early Bronze Age Celts, who settled in eastern Europe, of bloodsucking vampires remained ingrained in later societies and cultures in the region - mostly famously in the vampire myths of the Carpathians across modern-day Romania.

The 10th or 11th-century "vampire burial ground" of Celakovice, just outside Prague, proves that, whether they were real or a metaphor for all manner of human ills, the vampires were the most enduring of human ogres.

In 1966, archaeologist Jaroslav Spacek was called to investigate a number of "unusual graves" discovered during building work. They formed part of a unique vampire burial ground.

He reported: "All the skeletons, buried in separate graves, showed the tell-tale signs of anti-vampire rituals. Some were weighted down, others had a nail driven through their temple, were tied down or variously debilitated and their heads cut off and faced downward so that they should not find their way back to the world of the living. These noteworthy funerary rituals indicate that the bodies were the remains of revenants in the eyes of the medieval villagers of Celakovice."

The dread of dead men walking, and sucking the blood of their friends and families, prompted isolated rural communities down the ages to apply specific protective measures. The Slavs, Hungarians and Germanic peoples of central-east Europe and the Balkans used more than a dozen "magic means" to keep vampires from returning from their graves.

Over the centuries, the people of central-east Europe and the Balkans were confronted with "vampire epidemics" and fought long-running battles against the undead suspected of returning from the grave.

The problem of revenants became critical during a vampire epidemic in Hungary in the 18th century. Several contemporary academics wrote scholarly treatises about the depredations of revenants.

The myths and legends of undead harrying the living, whether credible or not, has a history which began some 4000 years ago in Europe and still lingers until today.

Gabriel Ronay is one of the world's leading authorities on the history of vampirism and is the author of The Dracula Myth and The Truth About Dracula.

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