Werewolves and Vampires: the science behind the myths…

The human imagination is a powerful thing: it has lead humanity forwards to fulfil ever greater accomplishments, but it’s also a weapon that has for millennia terrorised us. In the dark of night the slightest noise can easily mutate into a hideous wolf man or a blood sucking vampire. These monsters and many more of their kind have haunted the minds of humanity since before the time of ancient Greece. What could have created such terrifying entities that they have lingered for such an impossibly long time. This is the science of monsters…

The werewolf is by far one of the oldest monsters to plague our imaginations, with its origins beginning over two thousand years ago and taking on their recognisable form by the mid 14th Century. The werewolf may have been modified and adapted over centuries but it is very much real and still poses a terrible danger to people across the world. The clue is in its very nature; it infects normal people and turns them into monsters. Have you guessed its true identity yet? A werewolf is someone who has contracted rabies.

In olden times the disease ran rife throughout Europe and was often passed on to humans by wolves. The fear of the disease was so terrible that villages were known to bludgeon those who had been bitten to death on the spot. As the condition takes hold the mind is torn apart and the infected person will lash out at those around them, perhaps even trying to bite them. Growling and howls are not uncommon and all the hairs on the body will permanently stand up.

It may not be quite like the creature that folklore has told us about; but werewolves are very much a real thing that has been embellished over the years. With the symptoms that rabies causes is it hardly surprising that people thought the victims were becoming wolves.


Un-dead beings that feed on the living have existed in the minds of humans since prehistoric times, however the current incarnation of the vampire is from Eastern European folklore. In recent years the vampire has been remade with a never ending succession of novels which have made them ever more the hero of stories, as opposed to their evil origins.

The vampire is in fact a very crude entity, usually described as bloated and decaying. The monsters in old stories would lurch around like a zombie searching for the life force needed to keep their body going. Interestingly, they almost always have auburn hair (which is why I’m never going to near Transylvania!).

The origins of this monster are more complex than the werewolf, though in some ways similar. For instance, the rabies virus may have once again plaid its hand, as innocent people lost their minds and attacked those around them.

Another explanation arises from the fact that people at this time didn’t understand how you defined death. Quite often people who had been classed as dead would get up again, much to the horror of their relatives – only adding fuel to the myth.

The final part of the explanation for vampires comes not from real world pressures but rather the folklore in which they were born from. All across Europe it was seen that an unnatural death, such as suicide, would lead to an unnatural afterlife. There are tales from almost every European country of strange zombie like creations arising under such circumstances. Any one of these countless different versions could have become the archetypal monster, but one book that would grant the Vampire a new lease of life in a modern world. That book is of course Bram Stoker’s Dracula.

Tim Winstanley

Follow @impactmagazine on twitter.

2 Comments on this post.
  • Stacy
    31 October 2013 at 19:11
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    Happy Halloween! We had an amazing conversation about zombies, cryptids, and video game monsters thanks to science experts Steve Schlozman, Sebastian Alvarado, and Dan Loxton.
    watch “The Science of Monsters” here:

  • Harry
    2 November 2013 at 08:41
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    I had no idea!

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