At the site of a mass burial pit on the island, researchers discovered the remains of a woman in her 60s who had been buried around the year 1576. Someone had stuffed a brick in her mouth, which scientists believe was a form of vampire exorcism:
To kill the undead creatures, the stake-in-the-heart method popularized by later literature was not enough: A stone or brick had to be forced into the vampire’s mouth so that it would starve to death, Borrini said.
Some researchers think the rampant fear of vampires was triggered by the reopening of mass graves — a necessity in an age rife with plagues and werewolf attacks. Gravediggers would see decomposing bodies with blood and bile leaking from their mouths and holes were their burial shrouds once covered the bodies’ faces.
Scientists say those were just normal signs of decomposition, but the clever medieval gravediggers and priests knew better. Them dead wasn’t dead!
That’s what is believed to have happened to the woman found on the Lazzaretto island, which was used as a quarantine zone by Venice. Aged around 60, she died of the plague during the epidemic that also claimed the life of the painter Titian.
Much later, someone jammed the brick into her mouth when the grave was reopened. Borrini said that marks and breaks left by blunt instruments on several among more than 100 skeletons found by the archaeologists show that the grave was reused in a later epidemic.
Of course these medieval heroes weren’t right about everything. For one thing, they didn’t realize that vampires can digest certain kinds of bricks — especially those with a higher clay-to-mud ratio. Many medieval scholars also blamed the Jews for plagues and pestilence, which is just plain ridiculous.