Forensic approach to an archaeological casework of "vampire" skeletal remains in Venice: odontological and anthropological prospectus

J Forensic Sci. 2010 Nov;55(6):1634-7. doi: 10.1111/j.1556-4029.2010.01525.x. Epub 2010 Aug 12.


During the years 2006-2007, the Archeological Superintendent of Veneto (Italy) promoted a research project on mass graves located on Nuovo Lazzaretto in Venice, where the corpses of plague deaths were buried during the 16th and 17th centuries. The burials were of different stages and are believed to be the remains of plague victims from the numerous outbreaks of pestilence, which occurred between the 15th and 17th centuries. Among the fragmented and commingled human bones, an unusual burial was found. The body was laid supine, with the top half of the thorax intact, arms parallel to the rachis axis, the articulations were anatomically unaltered. Both the skull morphology and the dimensions of the caput omeris suggest the body was a woman. A brick of moderate size was found inside the oral cavity, keeping the mandible wide open. The data collected by the anthropologist were used to generate a taphonomic profile, which precluded the positioning of the brick being accidental. Likewise, the probability of the brick having come from the surrounding burial sediment was rejected, as the only other inclusions found were bone fragments from previous burials in the same area. The data collected by the odontologist were employed for age estimation and radiological dental assessment. The forensic profile was based conceptually on the "circumstances of death" and concluded that the positioning of the brick was intentional, and attributed to a symbolic burial ritual. This ritual confirms the intimate belief held at those times, between the plague and the mythological character of the vampire.

Publication types

  • Case Reports
  • Historical Article

MeSH terms

  • Anthropology, Physical
  • Archaeology
  • Burial*
  • Cemeteries
  • Ceremonial Behavior
  • Female
  • Folklore*
  • Forensic Anthropology
  • History, 15th Century
  • History, 16th Century
  • History, 17th Century
  • Humans
  • Italy
  • Plague / history
  • Radiography, Dental, Digital
  • Skull / pathology