Sunday 16 June 2013

Symbolic trepanation

Source: Bolgari
According to Professor of anthropology, Yordan Yordanov, who has studied and reconstructed the head of the ‘vampire skeleton’ from Sozopol, the head is not only unusually asymmetrical, but it also shows traces of so-called incomplete or symbolic trepanation (or trephination).

Trepanations can be divided into three classes: 1) Those performed on living subjects as a therapeutic method. 2) Those performed on a corpse for "magic" properties. 3) Incomplete trepanations that are performed on living subjects without fully removing a piece of the skull, perhaps only scraping off portions of the skull. The last ones are those signified as symbolic trepanations and are supposed to be performed for cultical reasons.

Several examples of this kind of trepanation are known from Hungary (according to Berecki, Molnár, Marcsik, Pálfi: Rare Types of Trephinations from Hungary Shed New Light on Possible Cross-cultural Connections in the Carpathian Basin in International Journal of Osteantrohopology, it was fairly common there in the 9th to the 11th century, cf. also this blog).

The term symbolic trepanation was introduced by the Hungarian L. Bartucz in 1950, and Yordanov himself has studied the phenomenon on finds from the West coast of the Black Sea (Jordanov, Dimitrova, and Nikolov:  Symbolic Trepanations of Skulls from the Middle Ages (IXth - Xth Century) in Bulgaria in Acta Neurochirurgica Vol 92 (1988), issue 1-4, pp. 15-18).

Tuesday 11 June 2013

English Catholics and the Supernatural, 1553-1829

Ashgate has published a volume in their series on Catholic Christendom, 1300-1700, titled English Catholics and the Supernatural, 1553-1829 by Francis Young. In his preface Young writes:

'In 2009, in the course of research for an article on Catholic exorcisms, I was struck by the absence of any literature on the relationship between Catholicism and belief in witchcraft. This was a surprising omission, since possession was so often blamed on 'bewitchment'. As there was no literature integrating the study of the Catholic community with the history of English witchcraft, I felt it necessary to write this book if Catholic exorcism was to be fully understood.'

According to the publishers: 'In spite of an upsurge in interest in the social history of the Catholic community and an ever-growing body of literature on early modern 'superstition' and popular religion, the English Catholic community's response to the invisible world of the preternatural and supernatural has remained largely neglected. Addressing this oversight, this book explores Catholic responses to the supernatural world, setting the English Catholic community in the contexts of the wider Counter-Reformation and the confessional culture of early modern England. In so doing, it fulfils the need for a study of how English Catholics related to manifestations of the devil (witchcraft and possession) and the dead (ghosts) in the context of Catholic attitudes to the supernatural world as a whole (including debates on miracles). The study further provides a comprehensive examination of the ways in which English Catholics deployed exorcism, the church's ultimate response to the devil.

Whilst some aspects of the Catholic response have been touched on in the course of broader studies, few scholars have gone beyond the evidence contained within anti-Catholic polemical literature to examine in detail what Catholics themselves said and thought. Given that Catholics were consistently portrayed as 'superstitious' in Protestant literature, the historian must attend to Catholic voices on the supernatural in order to avoid a disastrously unbalanced view of Catholic attitudes. This book provides the first analysis of the Catholic response to the supernatural and witchcraft and how it related to a characteristic Counter-Reformation preoccupation, the phenomenon of exorcism.'

Monday 10 June 2013


Here are two documentaries inspired by the 'vampire skeleton' find in Sozopol in Bulgaria. The first one is an incredibly dramatic and sensational 'history' of vampires from Russian Mainstream TV Company, while the second is a more straightforward documentary about the Sozopol find made for National Geographic. Neither are currently available online in English.

Sunday 9 June 2013

The 'Vampire' Returns

From Cross Online Bulgarian Network
After being displayed at the National History Museum in Sofia, the purported Bulgarian 'vampire skeleton' has been returned to Sozopol on the Black Sea coast, where it was originally found. A reconstruction of the head of the deceased man from the 14th century has been carried out by Professor Yordan Yordanov, and was presented to the public in late May. Apparently a man of about 45 years of age, he is described as 'handsome as a Roman'. He certainly does not look particularly scary...

Having arrived safely in Sozopol, both the skeleton and the reconstructed head are exhibited at the Archaeological Museum in Sozopol, where they are expected to become a tourist attriction. In the words of Bozhidar Dimitrov'They are pretty disappointed in Sozopol that [the skeleton] is not with them. He’s been lying about long enough, it is time he goes and makes some money at the seaside.'

Cf. older posts like Archaeology as romanticism and ideology and Vampire skeletons, a Bulgarian Indiana Jones and the remains of John the Baptist. A video from the Sozopol exhibition can be found at Zona Burgas.

Professor Yordan Yordanov and his reconstruction (from Novinar)

A Bulgarian novel about the Sozopol 'vampire'  by Galina Zlatareva,  A drop of blood for the vampire
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