'Vampire' Skeletons Found in Bulgaria

An archaeologist cleans a skeleton during archaeological excavations in June 2012 in the Black Sea town of Sozopol, Bulgaria. Archaeologists have unearthed two skeletons from the Middle Ages pierced through the chest with iron rods to keep them from turning into vampires, the head of the history museum said. Stringer/AFP/Getty Images

Archaeologists in Bulgaria have unearthed two centuries-old skeletons pierced through the chest with iron rods to keep them from becoming vampires.

According to Bozhidar Dimitrov, head of the National History Museum in Sofia, the medieval skeletons were found near the Black Sea town of Sozopol.

The discovery illustrates a common pagan practice of pinning corpses with an iron or wooden rod before burial. It was believed that those who’d done evil during their lifetime would return from the dead and leave their graves at midnight to feast on the blood of the living unless a rod was hammered through their hearts.

"These two skeletons stabbed with rods illustrate a practice which was common in some Bulgarian villages up until the first decade of the 20th century," Dimitrov told reporters.

Some 100 similar burials have already been found in the country, according to Dimitrov.

Vampire legends are prevalent in the Balkans. The most famous story is that of Romanian count Vlad the Impaler, better known as Dracula, who is known to have staked his war enemies and drank their blood.

Archaeologist Petar Balabanov, who in 2004 discovered six nailed-down skeletons near the Bulgarian town of Debelt, said the pagan rite also was also performed in Serbia, other Balkan countries and beyond. More recently in Italy, archeologists found the bones of a 10-year-old child who died from malaria. There was a stone in the child's mouth, what researchers say was another method of keeping the body — and the disease — in the grave.

University of Arizona archaeologist David Soren, described the scene from Lugnano in Teverina in the Italian region of Umbria, where he oversees excavations, according to UA News.

"I've never seen anything like it. It's extremely eerie and weird," said Soren, a Regents' Professor in the UA School of Anthropology and Department of Religious Studies and Classics. "Locally, they're calling it the 'Vampire of Lugnano.'"