The long unknown identity of a 19th century vampire has finally been revealed thanks to the use of new cutting-edge technology.
In 1990, the body of an unknown man was unearthed in Griswold, Connecticut, and it was clear to those who discovered it that there was something unusual about it, due to the way it was buried.
The man had been unearthed from his grave several years after his death and reburied, this time with his head and limbs stacked on top of his ribcage, forming a cross. At the time, it was believed that this unusual burial technique prevented vampires from rising from their graves and drinking the blood of the living.
For almost 30 years after his discovery, the identity of this man remained a mystery, and the question of why he had been buried in such an unusual way remained unanswered. But now, thanks to the latest advanced laboratory and bioinformatic DNA analysis, the answers are finally clear. The unknown is John Barber and he died of tuberculosis.
In the 19th century, as the deadly disease of tuberculosis spread through the six states that make up New England—Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Vermont—a gruesome rumor came with it. The families of those affected by the disease began to blame the undead, saying that those who perished from the disease would return from the afterlife to prey on their families.
And so, in a time before the discovery of the germ theory, when people did not believe that an earthly cause could be attributed to such disease, New Englanders took the law into their own hands.
The villagers dug up the bodies of the recently deceased, exhumed them, and reassembled them in the shape of a cross. In some cases, they removed the internal organs of the body and burned them.
According to a 2019 interview with history.com by retired Connecticut state archaeologist Nicholas Bellatoni, “Those consumed lost weight, coughed up blood, their skin turned ashen, and sometimes they died slowly, almost as if something “suck the life out” of them. “.
And with symptoms like jaundice and red eyes, on top of all of the above, it’s easy to understand how frightened villagers without the scientific or medical knowledge we have today would turn to tales of the undead in search of of an explanation.
This is how John Barber appears.
How did scientists discover Barber’s identity?
After Barber’s body was initially discovered in 1990, it wasn’t until 2019 that a team of forensic scientists from Parabon NanoLabs, a Virginia-based DNA technology company, began working with the U.S. DNA Identification Laboratory. Armed Forces (AFDIL) in Delaware in an attempt to discover his identity.
Initial analysis by the forensic team in 2019 had already linked the unidentified body to the possible surname “Barber,” and a search of historical records had led to a obituary from another individual buried in the same cemetery that mentioned a man. named John Barber, but no other records had been discovered.
The new study therefore aimed to find an answer to the question of whether this man, then known only as JB55 (the initials and age marked on his coffin), was in fact the same. John Barber mentioned in the records. And, if indeed she was the same person, what did she look like?
After testing various methods of DNA analysis, such as shotgun sequencing, human genome-wide screening, and screening of 850,000 custom SNPs, the most cost-effective method was genome-wide screening.
In traditional genome sequencing efforts, the goal is to sequence each fragment of the human genome 30 times. However, due to the difficulty of analyzing DNA from old bones, each sequencing run only yielded 2.5-fold coverage. Therefore, low-coverage imputation was applied to create a SNP profile that could be used for genetic genealogy, parentage inference, ancestry, and phenotype prediction.
What information has the DNA analysis revealed?
The results of the genome sequencing allowed the forensic team to predict that JB55 had been a man with light skin, brown or hazel eyes, brown or black hair, and a good number of freckles on his face.
To confirm the man’s identity, the team performed another genome sequencing analysis, this time of an individual buried in the same cemetery, believed to be a relative of JB55.
Once this information was acquired, both files were uploaded to the GEDmatch database, which in turn led to ancestors with the Barber surname who had lived in New England in the 18th and 19th centuries, thus supporting the hypothesis and confirming that JB55 was , in fact, John Barber.
Not content to stand there, the forensic team enlisted the help of Paraborn forensic artist Thom Shaw, who used the results of genome sequencing to digitally replicate what Barber would have looked like before the then-known disease took his life. like consumption.
“Stories of the undead consuming the blood of living beings have been around for centuries,” Parabon NanoLabs said in a statement about their research. “Before scientific and clinical knowledge was used to explain infectious diseases and medical conditions, communities affected by epidemics turned to folklore for explanations.
“They often blamed vampirism for the change in appearance, erratic behavior and death of their friends and relatives, who actually suffered from diseases such as porphyria, pellagra, rabies and tuberculosis.
“It is speculated that he [John Barber] he was unearthed and reburied because his limbs had been placed across his chest in an X in a skull-and-crossbones configuration, a burial practice used to prevent would-be vampires from rising from the grave to feed on the living.”