Archaeologists in Bulgaria have unearthed two centuries-old skeletons pierced through the chest with iron rods to keep them from becoming vampires.

According to Bozhidar Dimitrov, head of the National History Museum in Sofia, the medieval skeletons were found near the Black Sea town of Sozopol.

The discovery illustrates a common pagan practice of pinning corpses with an iron or wooden rod before burial. It was believed that those who’d done evil during their lifetime would return from the dead and leave their graves at midnight to feast on the blood of the living unless a rod was hammered through their hearts.

"These two skeletons stabbed with rods illustrate a practice which was common in some Bulgarian villages up until the first decade of the 20th century," Dimitrov told reporters.

Some 100 similar burials have already been found in the country, according to Dimitrov.

Archaeologist Petar Balabanov, who in 2004 discovered six nailed-down skeletons near the Bulgarian town of Debelt, said the pagan rite also was also performed in Serbia and other Balkan countries.

Vampire legends are prevalent in the Balkans. The most famous story is that of Romanian count Vlad the Impaler, better known as Dracula, who is known to have staked his war enemies and drank their blood.

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