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Scientists Save Face of Buried Connecticut Vampire

Connecticut Vampire or John Barber?
John Barber, the Connecticut Vampire. Credit: Parabon Nanolabs/Virginia Commonwealth University

Wielding DNA evidence, a mystery of long ago has been solved. Scientists saved the face of a buried Connecticut vampire. The actual man, who was accused of being a vampire, had a name—John Barber. Barber’s skull suggests he had few teeth to bite anybody’s neck or suck any blood. However, the state of his body at the time of death is unclear. Foul play could have been involved. His face has been digitally reconstructed with the help of Parabon NanoLabs and the Armed Forces DNA Identification Laboratory.

Vampires, or their myths and legends, have been known to terrorize diverse countries from Greece to the United States. They have appeared in ancient and modern times. Scholars in Connecticut also have a rich engagement with Ancient Greece. DNA evidence often is in conversation with the latest studies of antiquity. Looking that far back to archaic times, means two hundred years ago is a smaller leap.

Thirty years ago, archaeologists and scientists began to “save face”

Thirty years ago in Griswold, Connecticut researchers came across the strange remains of Mr. Barber. In a Connecticut graveyard dating to the early 19th century (many websites on the internet say 18th century in error), one grave stood out.

Its occupant, a man who died about two hundred years ago, had been dug up and reburied with his head and limbs piled on top of his ribcage, hinting at the suspicion of being a vampire. It also suggests his body was mutilated.

When someone metaphorically “saves face,” they usually correct their own embarrassing errors. However, by scientists reconstructing this man’s face, they may be undermining the deeds of malicious people long ago. And these did not include the “vampire.”

Now, archaeologists have revealed the identity of the man, formerly known only as “JB-55.” His initials and age at the time of death were spelled out on his coffin in brass tacks.

Comparing genetic evidence: finding the Connecticut vampire

Forensic scientists compared genetic evidence from the skeleton with online genealogical databases to ID the “vampire.” He was probably a toiling farmer who lived a burdened existence. Tuberculosis appears to have been the cause of his death. A representative of the National Museum of Health and Medicine in Silver Spring, Maryland announced this at a public event on July 26, 2022.

Research revealed that the man may have died from a type of chronic pulmonary infection, (tuberculosis fits). This is a bacterial infection that affects the lungs. It is said that when people are severely sick with the illness, they often suffer from gaunt cheeks and receding gums. This can make human teeth look more elongated like a vampire’s.

John Barber’s image was unveiled at the International Symposium on Human Identification conference in Washington DC earlier this week.

The DNA results showed that the man-in-question had fair skin (92.2 percent confidence). Brown or hazel eyes (99.8 percent confidence), dark hair (97.7 percent confidence), and some freckles (50.0 percent confidence) also comprised his features. The scientists constructed not simply a model with the features of his face, but, as DNA data suggests, Mr. Barber’s race also.

Something more is at stake for the Connecticut vampire

Legend has it, the way to kill a vampire is to drive a stake through his or her heart.

It is unclear why Barber’s contemporaries thought he was a vampire. The idea that he was gaunt and ill seems to miss the mark. While scholars of historical “vampires” have seen them as scapegoats for disease—like women accused of “witchcraft” in Salem, Massachusetts—something more was at stake.

There were social fears that the dead once buried could still harm the living. Hence, there was concern for how Barber was buried in effort to impede his rise from the dead at night. Both witches and vampires are scapegoated—not simply for appearance. Rather, they are scorned because of the perception that they have special powers. Usually, what authorities fear is their independent thought.

Authorities fear independent thought

Vampires were known for superhuman strength, heightened senses, and “mind control.” Like a witch, known as midwives and critical-thinking theologians, their “devilish” ways suggested penetrating insights. Those identified as vampires or witches, for instance, often had different notions about science and religion than the main currents of society. Mr. Barber may have been “sick” in more ways than one. He may have been a critical-thinking and subversive fellow rather than simply poor and powerless.

The enemies of such personalities only dig them up and rebury them when foul play is probable. Not only was his body mutilated after the first burial, but he may have been lynched previously. This is consistent with consequences for some in the Great New England Vampire Panic of the period. Furthermore, research may corroborate this hunch shared by some.

Contemporary readers must evaluate whether the archaeologists who dug him up this time around and the scientists who reconstructed his face placed him more firmly in history.

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