Researchers look for descendants of medieval “vampire”
by Jan Richter
Czech scientists have launched an unusual project that might lead them to the descendants of a medieval “vampire”. On Tuesday, they collected DNA samples from around a dozen inhabitants of Hrádek nad Nisou, where a 14th century grave had been found with a body buried in a way typical for outcasts. But the main purpose of the project is to draw attention to science, and to a new town museum that should open next year.
In March, archaeologists in the north Bohemain town of Hrádek nad Nisou discovered a strange grave on the town’s main square. The skeleton was positioned face down and had several silver coins in its hand. The fact that the person was buried outside the cemetery suggested the person in it had been stigmatized by his contemporaries. For centuries, such a burial rite was typical for people who were thought to be sorcerers, witches or vampires.
On Tuesday, the researchers returned to Hrádek nad Nisou to discuss the find with the locals, and to ask them for their own DNA samples. Daniel Vaněk from the Prague-based firm DNA Forensic Service explains.
“If we collect samples from people living in the area around Hrádek nad Nisou, in case of a stroke of good luck, we’ll be able to find a match between either male of female lineage with those bone samples. So we would find living relatives, genetic cousins if you will, of this skeleton. So that’s the reason why we were collecting DNA samples in the area – to compare them to our archaeogenetic results.”
Further research showed the skeleton belonged to a man who died at around 50 years of age, and scientists were able to extract DNA samples. According to the genetic profile, the man came from the Balkans, more specifically from northern Greece or Albania.
Mr Vaněk says the main aim of the project is to draw attention to science, and to a new museum that will open in Hrádek nad Nisou next spring.
“The idea was to attract people’s attention to the research that is going on in Hrádek nad Nisou, and to genetic genealogy, to archaeogenetics and anthropology. And that’s what really happened. I gave a presentation last night and the lecture room in the town hall of Hrádek nad Nisou was packed with people; they listened for two hours and voluntarily gave samples. So it’s a perfect example to bring science, as we say, to people’s kitchens.”
The scientists admit that only sheer luck could lead them to the man’s relatives still living in the area, like in the case of Cheddar Man when in 1997, British researches were able to trace a relative from a man who died more than 7,000 years BC.