The remains of a female "vampire", buried with a brick jammed between her jaws, have been found in Venice, Italian researchers say.
Skull had a brick jammed in the mouth
The brick is thought to have been used to prevent the woman feeding on victims of a plague which swept through the city in the 16th Century.
Experts said the discovery supported the medieval belief that vampires were behind the spread of plagues like the Black Death.
The skeleton was unearthed in a mass grave from the Venetian plague of 1576 - in which the artist Titian died - on the small island of Lazzaretto Nuovo in the Venice lagoon.
Situated around two miles north east of Venice, the grave was used as a sanatorium for plague sufferers.
Matteo Borrini, of the University of Florence, said: "This is the first time that archaeology has succeeded in reconstructing the ritual of exorcism of a vampire. This helps... authenticate how the myth of vampires was born."
Shrouds used to cover the faces of the dead were often decayed by bacteria in the mouth, revealing the corpse's teeth, and vampires became known as "shroud-eaters".
"To kill the vampire you had to remove the shroud from its mouth, which was its food like the milk of a child, and put something uneatable in there," said Mr Borrini.
"It's possible that other corpses have been found with bricks in their mouths, but this is the first time the ritual has been recognised."
The succession of plagues which ravaged Europe between 1300 and 1700 fostered the belief in vampires, mainly because the decomposition of corpses was not well understood, Mr Borrini said.
Gravediggers reopening mass graves would sometimes find bodies bloated by gas, with hair still growing, and blood seeping from their mouths and believe them to be still alive.
According to medieval medical and religious texts, the "undead" were believed to suck the remaining life from corpses until they acquired the strength to return to the streets again.
While legends about blood-drinking ghouls date back thousands of years, the modern figure of the vampire was encapsulated in Bram Stoker's 1897 novel Dracula.