The discovery last week of a 700-year-old skeleton with metal stakes where his heart had been has stirred a bout of vampire-mania in Europe and attracted flocks of tourists to the churchyard grave site in Bulgaria's Black Sea port of Sozopol.
So keen is the interest, the Bulgarian newspaper Standart reported Thursday, that Bulgarian authorities have moved the disinterred remains to a special display case at the Bulgarian Natural History Museum in Sofia.
At least 100 graves have been discovered during modern-day archaeological excavations in which the remains appeared to have been pinned down with iron rods or stakes, the newspaper said.
As recently as a century ago, Balkan peoples held to the belief that staking down the corpses of people who they regarded a evil would prevent them from rising from the dead and continuing to torment the living, archaeologist and museum director Bozhidar Dimitrov told journalists in Sofia, the Bulgarian capital.
"A group of brave men would reopen their graves and pierce the corpses with iron or wooden rods. Iron rod was used for the richer vampires," Dimitrov told journalists gathered around the skeleton, which he said was probably that of a notorious Black Sea pirate known as Krivich, or "Crooked."
Historically, vampire lore has spread from Transylvania in neighboring Romania, where a brutal 15th century ruler known as Vlad the Impaler dealt with his enemies by skewering them on stakes and posting them to suffer their gruesome deaths in public. Vlad the Impaler was believed to be the real-life inspiration for novelist Bram Stoker's fictional vampire, Dracula.
Bulgarian media have reported the discoveries of two other staked skeletons this month, both 700 to 800 years old -- more than a century before Vlad the Impaler's reign.
The global tourism news site eTN reported that travel agencies have been hit with a surge of interest in "vampire vacations." A photo accompanying the Standart story from the Bulfoto agency showed tourists in shorts and sun hats strolling through ruins of the nearby Black Sea town of Nessebar, noting that many have been asking to see the grave where the pirate's remains were found.
Agencies said interest from Britain and Germany was especially high, but they had also received enquiries from Russia and the United States, eTN reported.
-- Carol J. Williams in Los Angeles
Photo: Bulgarian National History Museum Director Bozhidar Dimitrov, right, unveiled remains believed to be those of a 14th century pirate found in a churchyard gravesite with metal stakes through the chest. Balkan pagans believed that evil people turned into vampires after they died and staking them to their coffins kept them from rising up to torment the living, Dimitrov said. Credit: Valentina Petrova / Associated Press