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Deja Vu

November 14, 2012

Staking A Claim

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2012: New examination of a skeleton discovered in 1959 has shed light on the longstanding fear of vampires in Britain. The skeleton, which archaeologists believe dates from 550-750 AD, was buried with metal spikes through shoulders, heart area and ankles. Untouched for fifty years, the skeleton is being evaluated as evidence of possible vampire panic:

The author of a detailed report on the Southwell skeleton, as well as other two books on the subject of the "vampire" being, Charles Beresford looked at the wider context for the burial, including excavations that occurred in the past decades near the "deviant" burial.

"Throughout the Anglo-Saxon period the 'punishment' of being buried in water-logged ground, face down, decapitated, staked or otherwise was reserved for thieves, murderers or traitors," Beresford wrote, and the treatment was later extended to all those who did not conform to society's rules.

Only a handful of deviant burials have been recognized in the UK. "Dangerous dead" such as vampires were interred with particular rituals to prevent them rising from their graves and attacking the living.

1897: The late 19th century was something of a vampire golden age--Bram Stoker's Dracula: A Mystery Story, carefully explained to enthralled readers precisely how to stop vampirism before it started:

The Thing in the coffin writhed, and a hideous, bloodcurdling screech came from the opened red lips. The body shook and quivered and twisted in wild contortions; the sharp white teeth champed together till the lips were cut, and the mouth was smeared with a crimson foam. But Arthur never faltered. He looked like a figure of Thor as his untrembling arm rose and fell, driving deeper and deeper the mercybearing stake, while the blood from the pierced heart welled and spurted up around it. His face was set, and high duty seemed to shine through it; the sight of it gave us courage, so that our voices seemed to ring through the little vault.

There, in the coffin lay no longer the foul Thing that we had so dreaded and grown to hate that the work of her destruction was yielded as a privilege to the one best entitled to it, but Lucy as we had seen her in her life, with her face of unequaled sweetness and purity. True that there were there, as we had seen them in life, the traces of care and pain and waste; but these were all dear to us, for they marked her truth to what we knew. One and all, we felt that the holy calm that lay like sunshine over the wasted face and form was only an earthly token and symbol of the calm that was to reign forever.

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Lewis H. Lapham is Editor of Lapham's Quarterly. He also serves as editor emeritus and national correspondent for Harper's magazine.
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