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Found: A Vampire Graveyard

Ever since the Raiders of the Lost Ark rocked my childhood, I've been a big fan of anything that combines archaeology and the supernatural. And while real-life Indys always seem to be finding ancient bits of apocryphal scripture and tombs which may or may not have belonged to Jesus, this is cool on a whole new level: at a Bronze Age dig site in Eastern Europe, archaeologists recently discovered what they think might be a 4,000 year old vampire graveyard in the Czech Republic.

During their explorations, archaeolgists in charge of the dig found the grave of a man whose skeleton showed the unmistakable tell-tale signs that his community had believed him to be a vampire and carried out certain specific rituals designed to keep the corpse in its grave after death. On opening the grave, which was set well apart from others nearby, the archaeologists found that the skeleton had been weighted down to prevent it returning to haunt the living.

Experts believe that the Eastern European belief in vampires -- famously culminating in the myths of Carpathia in modern-day Romania -- may have come from the Irish Celts who settled there, and brought their fears of bloodsucking fiends with them. But this Bohemian vampire graveyard isn't the first to be discovered -- merely the oldest. An 11th century "vampire burial ground" was unearthed in 1966 near Prague, and was described by an archaeologist this way:

"All the skeletons, buried in separate graves, showed the tell-tale signs of anti-vampire rituals. Some were weighted down, others had a nail driven through their temple, were tied down or variously debilitated and their heads cut off and faced downward so that they should not find their way back to the world of the living. These noteworthy funerary rituals indicate that the bodies were the remains of revenants in the eyes of the medieval villagers of Celakovice."

Many cultures around the world have traditions of vampire myths, and the vampire is one of the most enduring of supernatural beasties. Long before Romero-esque zombies stalked the nightmare landscapes of peoples' minds, there were the bloodthirsty undead. Eastern Europe of the 18th century was particularly plagued by supposed vampire sightings, so much so that rural areas in Hungary and elsewhere reported "vampire epidemics," and responded by exhuming and driving stakes through the hearts of the recently deceased in rural graveyards. Finally, the Empress of Austria launched a personal investigation into the veracity of vampires and, finally convinced that they were nothing more than superstition, decreed that the opening and desecration of graves was illegal, and so put a stop to the "epidemic." (More recently, a researcher at the University of Central Florida proved that vampires were "mathematically impossible.")

But archaeology can only tell us so much. When this belief in vampires began -- insomuch as vampire burials can be counted as evidence -- is becoming increasingly clear. Why is began is another matter entirely.

While we're on the subject, here are some of our favorite vampires.

Here's a little about why we love them.

And this is a vampire shirt you can buy.

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25 Benefits of Adopting a Rescue Dog
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According to the ASPCA, 3.3 million dogs enter shelters each year in the United States. Although that number has gone down since 2011 (from 3.9 million) there are still millions of dogs waiting in shelters for a forever home. October is Adopt a Shelter Dog Month; here are 25 benefits of adopting a shelter dog.

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How Urban Legends Like 'The Licked Hand' Are Born
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If you compare the scary stories you heard as a kid with those of your friends—even those who grew up across the country from you—you’ll probably hear some familiar tales. Maybe you tried to summon Bloody Mary by chanting her name in front of the mirror three times in a dark bathroom. Maybe you learned never to wonder what’s under a woman’s neck ribbon. Maybe you heard the one about the girl who feels her dog lick her hand in the middle of the night, only to wake up to find him hanging dead from the shower nozzle, the words “humans can lick too” written on the wall in the dog’s blood.

These ubiquitous, spooky folk tales exist everywhere, and a lot of them take surprisingly similar forms. How does a single story like the one often called “Humans Can Lick Too” or "The Licked Hand" make its way into every slumber party in America? Thrillist recently investigated the question with a few experts, finding that most of these stories have very deep roots.

In the case of The Licked Hand, its origins go back more than a century. In the 1990s, Snopes found that a similar motif dates back to an Englishman’s diary entry from 1871. In it, the diary keeper, Dearman Birchall, retold a story he heard at a party of a man whose wife woke him up in the middle of the night, urging him to go investigate what sounded like burglars in their home. He told his wife that it was only the dog, reaching out his hand. He felt the dog lick his hand … but in the morning, all his valuables were gone: He had clearly been robbed.

A similar theme shows up in the short story “The Diary of Mr. Poynter,” published in 1919 by M.R. James. In it, a character dozes off in an armchair, and thinks that he is petting his dog. It turns out, it’s some kind of hairy human figure that he flees from. The story seems to have evolved from there into its presently popular form, picking up steam in the 1960s. As with any folk tale, its exact form changes depending on the teller: sometimes the main character is an old lady, other times it’s a young girl.

You’ll probably hear these stories in the context of happening to a “friend of a friend,” making you more likely to believe the tale. It practically happened to someone you know! Kind of! The setting, too, is probably somewhere nearby. It might be in your neighborhood, or down by the local railroad tracks.

Thrillist spoke to Dr. Joseph Stubbersfield, a researcher in the UK who studies urban legends, who says the kind of stories that spread widely contain both social information and emotional resonance. Meaning they contain a message—you never know who’s lurking in your house—and are evocative.

If something is super scary or gross, you want to share it. Stories tend to warn against something: A study of English-language urban legends circulating online found that most warned listeners about the hazards of life (poisonous plants, dangerous animals, dangerous humans) rather than any kind of opportunities. We like to warn each other of the dangers that could be lurking around every corner, which makes sense considering our proven propensity to focus on and learn from negative information. And yes, that means telling each other to watch out for who’s licking our hands in the middle of the night.

Just something to keep in mind as you eagerly await Jezebel’s annual scary story contest.

[h/t Thrillist]

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