<em>Dance of Death</em>, Michael Wolgemut, 1493.
Dance of Death, Michael Wolgemut, 1493.

With the kind of headlines that immediately catch our eye, news reached us last week that the decapitated skeletons of four suspected vampires were discovered recently in in Gliwice, Poland during excavations for a road building project.

Archaeologists at the site suspect that the dead might have been accused of being less-dead than their neighbors might have liked. Found with their heads removed, and placed between their legs, this otherwise unusual arrangement was a relatively well-known anti-rising-from-the-dead measure taken in many countries, particularly during the Middle Ages. Strangely enough, anti-vampire burials in Poland have been recorded as recently as 1914.

Weirdly, finds like this are not as rare as it might seem. Other vampire burials have been uneathed around the world, including recent discoveries in the Czech Republic and Bulgaria, as well as our favorite: the brick-eating Vampire of Venice.

So far, the burials and bodies found in Gwlice remain undated, so little is known beyond the physical evidence, but that got us to wondering: what might have led to the belief that these people were part of the undead? Possibly, it’s because they refused to eat their amniotic sack like good children.

As it turns out, Polish legend holds that a child born with a caul (a bit of the mother’s amniotic sack) still covering the head was destined for a future of bloodsucking as a vjesci, or vampire. Says the ever-reliable vampire-focused internet:

According to the legends a person was doomed to become a vjesci if they were born with caul (a thin, filmy piece of membrane that sticks to some infants at birth). When a child was born with caul, it was said the only way to prevent them from becoming a vampire was to save the caul, dry it, ground it up and feed it to the child on its seventh birthday.

It is interesting to note however, that elsewehere, caulbearers were considered lucky or to have been given the gift of second sight. For example, in England, cauls were considered to be particularly lucky during the Victorian period, and saved and sold as a talisman against drowning.

So common was the practice that Charles Dickens wrote of this tradition in David Copperfield:

I was born with a caul, which was advertised for sale, in the newspapers, at the low price of fifteen guineas. Whether sea-going people were short of money about that time, or were short of faith and preferred cork jackets, I don’t know; all I know is, that there was but one solitary bidding, and that was from an attorney connected with the bill-broking business, who offered two pounds in cash, and the balance in sherry, but declined to be guaranteed from drowning on any higher bargain.