'Vampire' skeleton on display

Bulgaria's history museum plans to display a "vampire" skeleton next week after unearthing the 700-year-old remains of two men stabbed through the chest with iron rods.

Archaeologists, excavating a monastery near the Black Sea city of Sozopol, discovered the skeletons which were buried in a pagan ritual that they said was aimed at keeping the men from turning into vampires.

"This was a pagan belief widespread in the Bulgarian lands in the 12th to 14th centuries. People were very superstitious then," National History Museum head Bozhidar Dimitrov said.

"Throughout the country we have found over 100 such 'vampire' burials of mainly noblemen from the Middle Ages who were branded bloodsucking immortals."

Dimitrov explained that these people were considered bad during their lifetime and according to pagan beliefs could become vampires after death and continue to torment the living.

"That's why they were often pierced with rods, wooden or metal," he said.

The Balkan country, which remained pagan until it embraced Christianity in the ninth century, borders Romania - birthplace of the 15th century ruler often associated with the popular fictional character upon which Dracula is based.

Romania's notorious 15th century ruler Vlad Tepes, or Vlad the Impaler was no vampire, but his cruelty and name inspired the fictional Dracula created by novelist Bram Stoker.

The finds in Bulgaria have sparked interest from vampire enthusiasts all over the world and the small Balkan country may seek to capitalise on its pagan heritage.