Just in time for Halloween, the man known as “Bulgaria’s Indiana Jones” may have unearthed the grave of one of the undead. On Oct. 9, archaeologist Nikolai Ovcharov announced that he discovered what he called a “vampire grave” that contains a skeleton with a ploughshare – an iron rod used for a plough – driven through its chest, the Telegraph reports. The grave dates back to the 13th century and was discovered at Perperikon, an ancient Thracian city in southern Bulgaria.
Ovcharov’s discovery reveals a gruesome burial ritual that sheds light on superstitions surrounding vampire lore. The skeleton is of a man thought to be in his 40s, and in addition to the metal rod hammered through his chest his left leg was removed and placed beside his body, according to Smithsonian.com.
“We have no doubts that once again we’re seeing an anti-vampire ritual being carried out, Ovcharov told the Telegraph. “Often they were applied to people who had died in unusual circumstances – such as suicide.”
Ovcharov said that, in these rituals, a rod or stake would be rammed through the body in order to prevent an evil individual returning from the grave.
Perperikon isn’t just a site known for things that go bump in the night. Discovered just 20 years ago, the ancient city is thought to be the location of the Temple of Dionysius, the Greek god of wine, fertility, and agriculture. There are a series of vampire graves at the site as well as other unusual findings, according to the Telegraph.
Ovcharov also uncovered the remains of a woman and a young child that were arranged to imitate standard depictions of Christianity’s Virgin Mary and child. Similar to the iron rod being used to protect against alleged vampirism, these bodies were arranged to recreate the recognizable Biblical image as a method to protect against the plague, which was running rampant through the medieval world when the graves were made.
Ovcharov’s discovery is similar to a grave found in the Bulgarian town of Sozopol in 2012. Back then, archeologist Dimitar Nedev, head of the Sozopol Archeological Museum found two skeletons impaled with similar metal rods, according to Archeology.
Just how widespread was a fear of the likes of Dracula terrorizing medieval Bulgarians? Nedev explained that the graves reveal local religious leaders’ emphasis to return to older “pagan” methods for protecting against disease and the supernatural. Nedev said that a Christian religious sect known as Manichean Bogomilism played a very prominent role in Bulgarian religious life in the 13th century.
“The Christian rituals practiced then – and now— still included many pagan elements,” Nedev told Archeology. Rituals, like driving a stake through the hearts of alleged vampires, were “particularly well preserved” at Sozopol and other nearby communities, he added.