Evacuated Bones Revive Vampire Paranoia
Published: Tuesday, October 31, 2006
Updated: Friday, August 23, 2013 17:08
In 1990, Connecticut state archaeologist and UConn professor Nicholas Bellantoni unearthed a peculiar 18th century grave in Griswold, Conn. - one whose inhabitant had been decapitated, his ribs broken and the bones of his legs arranged in an "X" across his chest five years after his burial.
Bellantoni's excavation, although 16 years ago, has resurfaced. His findings, thought to be a sign of vampirism paranoia in colonial New England, prompted National Geographic to contact him to appear in the documentary "Is it Real?: Vampires." The documentary, filmed in late February 2004, uses Bellantoni's excavation to examine the rituals of 18th century New England dealing with one of the world's most enduring myths, according to the Advance. The show aired Oct. 23 on the National Geographic Channel, but will air a second time tonight at 9:00 p.m.
Bellantoni's 1990 discovery has been the inspiration for many programs and books that he's also been featured in.
"It just amazes me," Bellantoni said, "It's like a real vampire; it just won't die."
David Colberg, the public information and marketing coordinator at the Connecticut State Museum of Natural History on campus isn't surprised by Bellantoni's international reputation.
"He's recognized as one of the best forensic archeologists out there," Colberg said. "He really brings the subject matter to life."
This latest resurrection of Bellantoni's work looks to the past to search for the origins of the vampire myth, touching upon Vlad the Impaler, Bram Stoker and even the modern day bloodthirsty "undead."
Blending science with accounts of vampirism from the medieval period to present day, the show provides insight into mankind's most chillingly appealing nightwalkers.
Bellantoni, who has lent his expertise to numerous National Geographic shows in the past, was willing as always to work with the company again. He realizes the show and others like it are aired for the "sensational" Halloween topics they discuss. However, Bellantoni countered that he tries to offer the best of his input.
"I don't mind getting involved in [the shows] because I try to maintain a scientific approach about everything," he said, "and it really is a fascinating story."
Bellantoni's discovery of the strange 18th century remains, initialed J.B., were a vital insight into colonial New England that showed just how seriously vampirism was taken.
The site was discovered when two Connecticut children, sliding down hills of gravel in a newly created gravel quarry, dislodged two human skulls. Originally thought to be undiscovered victims of serial killer Michael Ross, a medical examiner found the skulls to be much older.
Bellantoni was called in, and was amazed to find that the skulls were in fact from the gravesite of a colonial farming family.
Ultimately, a total of 29 graves were excavated, one being the tampered remains of J.B.
Prior to the discovery of the burial site in Griswold, archeologist had no physical evidence to document vampirism in New England, and regarded it only as folklore.
"When we excavated [J.B.]," Bellantoni said, "we found the first real hard evidence that such a thing did go on."
True to the common practice of vampire killing, J.B. was exhumed and beheaded. His chest cavity was penetrated to allow for the removal of his heart, and his leg bones rearranged to prevent him from leaving his grave in the night.
Suspicion of J.B.'s vampirism, like many of the other suspected undead around the world, stemmed from strange illnesses that seemed to infect the family and friends of the deceased. To cure the paranormal illness, the vampire's heart was burned and fed to the afflicted.