Archaeologists in Bulgaria 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 national history museum says.
According to pagan beliefs, people who were considered bad during their lifetimes might turn into vampires after death unless stabbed in the chest with an iron or wooden rod before being buried.
"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," national history museum chief Bozhidar Dimitrov said after the recent find in the Black Sea town of Sozopol.
People believed the rod would also pin the dead into their graves to prevent them from leaving at midnight and terrorising the living, the historian explained.
The practice was common, Dimitrov added, saying some 100 similar burials had already been found in Bulgaria.
Archaeologist Petar Balabanov, who in 2004 unearthed six nailed-down skeletons at a site near the eastern town of Debelt, said the pagan rite was also practised in neighbouring Serbia and other Balkan countries.
Vampire legends are widespread across the Balkans. The most famous is that of Romanian count Vlad the Impaler, known as Dracula, who staked his war enemies and drank their blood.