Burial
Overview
Burial is the act of placing a person or object into the ground. This is accomplished by excavating a pit or trench, placing an object in it, and covering it over.
Intentional burial, particularly with grave goods
Grave goods
Grave goods, in archaeology and anthropology, are the items buried along with the body.They are usually personal possessions, supplies to smooth the deceased's journey into the afterlife or offerings to the gods. Grave goods are a type of votive deposit...

, may be one of the earliest detectable forms of religious practice since, as Philip Lieberman
Philip Lieberman
Philip Lieberman is a linguist at Brown University, Providence, Rhode Island, United States. Originally trained in phonetics, he wrote a dissertation on intonation. The remainder of his career has focused on topics in the evolution of language, and particularly the relationship between the...

 suggests, it may signify a "concern for the dead that transcends daily life." Though disputed, evidence suggests that the Neanderthals were the first human species
Homo
Homo may refer to:*the Greek prefix ὅμο-, meaning "the same"*the Latin for man, human being*Homo, the taxonomical genus including modern humans...

 to intentionally bury the dead, doing so in shallow graves along with stone tools and animal bones.
Encyclopedia
Burial is the act of placing a person or object into the ground. This is accomplished by excavating a pit or trench, placing an object in it, and covering it over.

History

Intentional burial, particularly with grave goods
Grave goods
Grave goods, in archaeology and anthropology, are the items buried along with the body.They are usually personal possessions, supplies to smooth the deceased's journey into the afterlife or offerings to the gods. Grave goods are a type of votive deposit...

, may be one of the earliest detectable forms of religious practice since, as Philip Lieberman
Philip Lieberman
Philip Lieberman is a linguist at Brown University, Providence, Rhode Island, United States. Originally trained in phonetics, he wrote a dissertation on intonation. The remainder of his career has focused on topics in the evolution of language, and particularly the relationship between the...

 suggests, it may signify a "concern for the dead that transcends daily life." Though disputed, evidence suggests that the Neanderthals were the first human species
Homo
Homo may refer to:*the Greek prefix ὅμο-, meaning "the same"*the Latin for man, human being*Homo, the taxonomical genus including modern humans...

 to intentionally bury the dead, doing so in shallow graves along with stone tools and animal bones. Exemplary sites include Shanidar
Shanidar
Shanidar Cave is an archaeological site in the Zagros Mountains in Erbil Governorate, Kurdistan Region, Iraq. The site is located in the valley of the Great Zab...

 in Iraq, Kebara Cave
Kebara Cave
Kebara Cave is an Israeli limestone cave locality of the Wadi Kebara, situated at 60 - 65 metres ASL on the western escarpment of the Carmel Range, some 10km north-east of Caesarea...

 in Israel and Krapina
Krapina
Krapina is a town in northern Croatia and the administrative centre of Krapina-Zagorje County with a population of 4,482 and a total municipality population of 12,479...

 in Croatia. Some scholars, however argue that these bodies may have been disposed of for secular reasons.

The earliest undisputed human burial, discovered so far, dates back 130,000 years. Human skeletal remains stained with red ochre were discovered in the Skhul cave at Qafzeh, Israel. A variety of grave goods were present at the site, including the mandible of a wild boar in the arms of one of the skeletons.

Prehistoric cemeteries
Cemetery
A cemetery is a place in which dead bodies and cremated remains are buried. The term "cemetery" implies that the land is specifically designated as a burying ground. Cemeteries in the Western world are where the final ceremonies of death are observed...

 are referred to by the more neutral term grave field
Grave field
A grave field is a prehistoric cemetery, typically of Bronze Age and Iron Age Europe.Grave fields are distinguished from necropoleis by the former's lack of above-ground structures, buildings, or grave markers.-Types:...

. They are one of the chief sources of information on prehistoric cultures, and numerous archaeological culture
Archaeological culture
An archaeological culture is a recurring assemblage of artifacts from a specific time and place, which are thought to constitute the material culture remains of a particular past human society. The connection between the artifacts is based on archaeologists' understanding and interpretation and...

s are defined by their burial customs, such as the
Urnfield culture
Urnfield culture
The Urnfield culture was a late Bronze Age culture of central Europe. The name comes from the custom of cremating the dead and placing their ashes in urns which were then buried in fields...

 of the European Bronze Age.

Reasons for human burial

After death, a body will decay. Burial is not necessarily a public health
Public health
Public health is "the science and art of preventing disease, prolonging life and promoting health through the organized efforts and informed choices of society, organizations, public and private, communities and individuals" . It is concerned with threats to health based on population health...

 requirement. Contrary to conventional wisdom, the WHO
World Health Organization
The World Health Organization is a specialized agency of the United Nations that acts as a coordinating authority on international public health. Established on 7 April 1948, with headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland, the agency inherited the mandate and resources of its predecessor, the Health...

 advises that only corpses carrying an infectious disease
Infectious disease
Infectious diseases, also known as communicable diseases, contagious diseases or transmissible diseases comprise clinically evident illness resulting from the infection, presence and growth of pathogenic biological agents in an individual host organism...

 strictly require burial.

Human burial practices are the manifestation of the human desire to demonstrate "respect for the dead", and to prevent the possibilities of revenants [ghosts] harming the living. Cultures vary in their mode of respect.

Among the reasons for this are:
  • Respect for the physical remains. If left lying on top of the ground, scavengers may eat the corpse, considered disrespectful to the deceased in many (but not all) cultures. In Tibet, Sky burial
    Sky burial
    Sky burial, or ritual dissection, is a funerary practice in Tibet, wherein a human corpse was incised in certain locations and placed on a mountaintop, exposing it to the elements and animals – especially to predatory birds. The locations of preparation and sky burial are understood in the...

    s return the remains to the cycle of life and acknowledge the body as "food," a core tenet of some Buddhist practices.
  • Burial can be seen as an attempt to bring closure
    Closure (psychology)
    Closure or need for closure is a popular psychology term used to describe an individual's desire for a definite cognitive closure as opposed to enduring ambiguity...

     to the deceased's family and friends. Psychologists in some Western Judeo-Christian quarters, as well as the US funeral industry, claim that by interring a body away from plain view, the pain of losing a loved one can be lessened.
  • Many cultures believe in an afterlife
    Afterlife
    The afterlife is the belief that a part of, or essence of, or soul of an individual, which carries with it and confers personal identity, survives the death of the body of this world and this lifetime, by natural or supernatural means, in contrast to the belief in eternal...

    . Burial is sometimes believed to be a necessary step for an individual to reach the afterlife.
  • Many religion
    Religion
    Religion is a collection of cultural systems, belief systems, and worldviews that establishes symbols that relate humanity to spirituality and, sometimes, to moral values. Many religions have narratives, symbols, traditions and sacred histories that are intended to give meaning to life or to...

    s prescribe a particular way to live, which includes customs relating to disposal of the dead.
  • A decomposing body releases an unpleasant smell, so burial is a way of preventing that smell from reaching the open air.

Burial methods

In many culture
Culture
Culture is a term that has many different inter-related meanings. For example, in 1952, Alfred Kroeber and Clyde Kluckhohn compiled a list of 164 definitions of "culture" in Culture: A Critical Review of Concepts and Definitions...

s, human corpses were usually buried in soil. The roots of burial as a practice reach back into the Middle Palaeolithic and coincides with the appearance of Homo sapiens neanderthalensis and Homo sapiens, in Europe and Africa respectively. As a result, burial grounds are found throughout the world. Through time, Mounds of earth
Tumulus
A tumulus is a mound of earth and stones raised over a grave or graves. Tumuli are also known as barrows, burial mounds, Hügelgrab or kurgans, and can be found throughout much of the world. A tumulus composed largely or entirely of stones is usually referred to as a cairn...

, temple
Temple
A temple is a structure reserved for religious or spiritual activities, such as prayer and sacrifice, or analogous rites. A templum constituted a sacred precinct as defined by a priest, or augur. It has the same root as the word "template," a plan in preparation of the building that was marked out...

s, and underground caverns were used to store the dead bodies of ancestor
Ancestor
An ancestor is a parent or the parent of an ancestor ....

s. In modern times, the custom
Norm (sociology)
Social norms are the accepted behaviors within a society or group. This sociological and social psychological term has been defined as "the rules that a group uses for appropriate and inappropriate values, beliefs, attitudes and behaviors. These rules may be explicit or implicit...

 of burying dead people below ground with a stone marker
Headstone
A headstone, tombstone, or gravestone is a marker, usually stone, that is placed over a grave. In most cases they have the deceased's name, date of birth, and date of death inscribed on them, along with a personal message, or prayer.- Use :...

 to mark the place is used in almost every modern culture
Culture
Culture is a term that has many different inter-related meanings. For example, in 1952, Alfred Kroeber and Clyde Kluckhohn compiled a list of 164 definitions of "culture" in Culture: A Critical Review of Concepts and Definitions...

, although other means such as cremation
Cremation
Cremation is the process of reducing bodies to basic chemical compounds such as gasses and bone fragments. This is accomplished through high-temperature burning, vaporization and oxidation....

 are becoming more popular in the west (cremation is the norm in India and mandatory in Japan).

Some burial practices are heavily ritual
Ritual
A ritual is a set of actions, performed mainly for their symbolic value. It may be prescribed by a religion or by the traditions of a community. The term usually excludes actions which are arbitrarily chosen by the performers....

ized; others are simply practical.

Natural burial

While seen as a new trend in modern burial, natural burial, the process by which a body is returned to the earth to decompose naturally in soil, has been practiced in Islam for almost 1500 years. Natural burial became popularized in the United Kingdom in the early 1990s by Ken West, a professional cemeterian for the City of Carlisle responding to the U.K's call for changes in government that aligned with the United Nations' Environmental Program Local Agenda 21
Agenda 21
Agenda 21 is an action plan of the United Nations related to sustainable development and was an outcome of the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, in 1992...

. The practice is gaining ground rapidly and has now expanded to Australia, Germany, the Netherlands, North America, China and Japan.

A new form of burial which previously freeze-dries the body with liquid nitrogen
Liquid nitrogen
Liquid nitrogen is nitrogen in a liquid state at a very low temperature. It is produced industrially by fractional distillation of liquid air. Liquid nitrogen is a colourless clear liquid with density of 0.807 g/mL at its boiling point and a dielectric constant of 1.4...

 has been developed by the Swedish company Promessa Organic AB
Promessa Organic
Promessa Organic AB is a Swedish company with headquarters in Göteborg, Sweden. For over 20 years, marine biologist Susanne Wiigh-Masak, in collaboration with AGA AB, has been developing a new form of ecological burial....

, which puts it forward as an environmentally friendly alternative to traditional casket and cremation burials.

Prevention of decay

Embalming
Embalming
Embalming, in most modern cultures, is the art and science of temporarily preserving human remains to forestall decomposition and to make them suitable for public display at a funeral. The three goals of embalming are thus sanitization, presentation and preservation of a corpse to achieve this...

 is the practice of preserving a body against decay, and is used in many cultures. Mummification
Mummy
A mummy is a body, human or animal, whose skin and organs have been preserved by either intentional or incidental exposure to chemicals, extreme coldness , very low humidity, or lack of air when bodies are submerged in bogs, so that the recovered body will not decay further if kept in cool and dry...

 is a more extensive method of embalming, further delaying the decay process.

Bodies are often buried wrapped in a shroud
Shroud
Shroud usually refers to an item, such as a cloth, that covers or protects some other object. The term is most often used in reference to burial sheets, winding-cloths or winding-sheets, such as the famous Shroud of Turin or Tachrichim that Jews are dressed in for burial...

 or placed in a coffin
Coffin
A coffin is a funerary box used in the display and containment of dead people – either for burial or cremation.Contemporary North American English makes a distinction between "coffin", which is generally understood to denote a funerary box having six sides in plan view, and "casket", which...

 (or in some cases, a casket). A larger container may be used, such as a ship
Ship burial
A ship burial or boat grave is a burial in which a ship or boat is used either as a container for the dead and the grave goods, or as a part of the grave goods itself. If the ship is very small, it is called a boat grave...

. In the United States, coffins are usually covered by a grave liner or a burial vault
Burial vault (enclosure)
A burial vault is a sturdy box designed to protect the coffin inside of it. The body is placed within the coffin, which is then placed inside the vault. Body, coffin, and vault are buried. A burial vault serves as an outer enclosure for buried remains; the coffin serves as an inner enclosure.Vaults...

, which prevents the coffin from collapsing under the weight of the earth or floating away during a flood.

These containers slow the decomposition process by (partially) physically blocking decomposing bacteria
Bacteria
Bacteria are a large domain of prokaryotic microorganisms. Typically a few micrometres in length, bacteria have a wide range of shapes, ranging from spheres to rods and spirals...

 and other organisms from accessing the corpse. An additional benefit of using containers to hold the body is that if the soil covering the corpse is washed away by a flood
Flood
A flood is an overflow of an expanse of water that submerges land. The EU Floods directive defines a flood as a temporary covering by water of land not normally covered by water...

 or some other natural process, the corpse will still not be exposed to open air.

Inclusion of clothing and personal effects

The body may be dressed in fancy and/or ceremonial clothes. Personal objects, such as a favorite piece of jewelry or photograph, of the deceased may be included with the body. This practice, also known as the inclusion of grave goods
Grave goods
Grave goods, in archaeology and anthropology, are the items buried along with the body.They are usually personal possessions, supplies to smooth the deceased's journey into the afterlife or offerings to the gods. Grave goods are a type of votive deposit...

, serves several purposes:
  • In funeral
    Funeral
    A funeral is a ceremony for celebrating, sanctifying, or remembering the life of a person who has died. Funerary customs comprise the complex of beliefs and practices used by a culture to remember the dead, from interment itself, to various monuments, prayers, and rituals undertaken in their honor...

     services, the body is often put on display. Many cultures feel that the deceased should be presented looking his/her finest.
  • The inclusion of ceremonial garb and sacred objects is sometimes viewed as necessary for reaching the afterlife
    Afterlife
    The afterlife is the belief that a part of, or essence of, or soul of an individual, which carries with it and confers personal identity, survives the death of the body of this world and this lifetime, by natural or supernatural means, in contrast to the belief in eternal...

    .
  • The inclusion of personal effects may be motivated by the beliefs that in the afterlife a person will wish to have with them what was important to them on earth. Alternatively, in some cultures it is felt that when a person dies, their possessions (and sometimes people connected to them such as wives) should go with them out of loyalty or ownership.
  • Though not generally a motivation for the inclusion of grave goods with a corpse, it is worth considering that future archaeologists
    Archaeology
    Archaeology, or archeology , is the study of human society, primarily through the recovery and analysis of the material culture and environmental data that they have left behind, which includes artifacts, architecture, biofacts and cultural landscapes...

     may find the remains (compare time capsule
    Time capsule
    A time capsule is an historic cache of goods or information, usually intended as a method of communication with future people and to help future archaeologists, anthropologists, or historians...

    ). Artifacts
    Artifact (archaeology)
    An artifact or artefact is "something made or given shape by man, such as a tool or a work of art, esp an object of archaeological interest"...

     such as clothing and objects provide insight into how the individual lived. This provides a form of immortality
    Immortality
    Immortality is the ability to live forever. It is unknown whether human physical immortality is an achievable condition. Biological forms have inherent limitations which may or may not be able to be overcome through medical interventions or engineering...

     for the deceased.

Body positioning

Burials may be placed in a number of different positions. Christian
Christianity
Christianity is a monotheistic religion based on the life and teachings of Jesus as presented in canonical gospels and other New Testament writings...

 burials are made extended, i.e., lying flat with arms and legs straight, or with the arms folded upon the chest, and with the eye
Human eye
The human eye is an organ which reacts to light for several purposes. As a conscious sense organ, the eye allows vision. Rod and cone cells in the retina allow conscious light perception and vision including color differentiation and the perception of depth...

s and mouth
Mouth
The mouth is the first portion of the alimentary canal that receives food andsaliva. The oral mucosa is the mucous membrane epithelium lining the inside of the mouth....

 closed. Extended burials may be supine (lying on the back) or prone (lying on the front). However, in some cultures, being buried face down shows marked disrespect. Other ritual
Ritual
A ritual is a set of actions, performed mainly for their symbolic value. It may be prescribed by a religion or by the traditions of a community. The term usually excludes actions which are arbitrarily chosen by the performers....

 practices place the body in a flexed position with the legs bent or crouched with the legs folded up to the chest. Warriors in some ancient societies were buried in an upright position. In Islam
Islam
Islam . The most common are and .   : Arabic pronunciation varies regionally. The first vowel ranges from ~~. The second vowel ranges from ~~~...

, the head is pointed toward and the face is turned toward Mecca
Mecca
Mecca is a city in the Hijaz and the capital of Makkah province in Saudi Arabia. The city is located inland from Jeddah in a narrow valley at a height of above sea level...

, the holiest city in Islam
Islam
Islam . The most common are and .   : Arabic pronunciation varies regionally. The first vowel ranges from ~~. The second vowel ranges from ~~~...

. Many cultures treat placement of dead people in an appropriate position to be a sign of respect even when burial is impossible.

In nonstandard burial practices, such as mass burial, the body may be positioned arbitrarily. This can be a sign of disrespect to the deceased, or at least nonchalance on the part of the inhumer, or due to considerations of time and space.

Orientation

Historically, Christian burials were made supine east-west, with the head at the western end of the grave. This mirrors the layout of Christian churches, and for much the same reason; to view the coming of Christ on Judgment day (Eschaton
Christian eschatology
Christian eschatology is a major branch of study within Christian theology. Eschatology, from two Greek words meaning last and study , is the study of the end of things, whether the end of an individual life, the end of the age, or the end of the world...

). In many Christian traditions, ordained clergy are traditionally buried in the opposite orientation, and their coffins carried likewise, so that at the General Resurrection they may rise facing, and ready to minister to, their people.

In Islam, the grave should be aligned perpendicular
Perpendicular
In geometry, two lines or planes are considered perpendicular to each other if they form congruent adjacent angles . The term may be used as a noun or adjective...

 to the Qibla
Qibla
The Qiblah , also transliterated as Qibla, Kiblah or Kibla, is the direction that should be faced when a Muslim prays during salah...

 (i.e. Mecca). (see Islamic funeral
Islamic funeral
Funerals in Islam follow fairly specific rites, though they are subject to regional interpretation and variation in custom. In all cases, however, sharia calls for burial of the body, preceded by a simple ritual involving bathing and shrouding the body, followed by salah...

)

Inverted burial

For humans, maintaining an upside down position, with the head vertically below the feet, is highly uncomfortable for any extended period of time, and consequently burial in that attitude (as opposed to attitudes of rest or watchfulness, as above) is highly unusual and generally symbolic. Occasionally suicide
Suicide
Suicide is the act of intentionally causing one's own death. Suicide is often committed out of despair or attributed to some underlying mental disorder, such as depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, alcoholism, or drug abuse...

s and assassins were buried upside down, as a post-mortem punishment and (as with burial at cross-roads) to inhibit the activities of the resulting undead
Undead
Undead is a collective name for fictional, mythological, or legendary beings that are deceased and yet behave as if alive. Undead may be incorporeal, such as ghosts, or corporeal, such as vampires and zombies...

.

In Gulliver's Travels
Gulliver's Travels
Travels into Several Remote Nations of the World, in Four Parts. By Lemuel Gulliver, First a Surgeon, and then a Captain of Several Ships, better known simply as Gulliver's Travels , is a novel by Anglo-Irish writer and clergyman Jonathan Swift that is both a satire on human nature and a parody of...

, the Lilliputians buried their dead upside down:
Swift's notion of inverted burial might seem the highest flight of fancy, but it appears that among English millenarians the idea that the world would be "turned upside down" at the Apocalypse enjoyed some currency. There is at least one attested case of a person being buried upside down by instruction; a Major Peter Labelliere of Dorking
Dorking
Dorking is a historic market town at the foot of the North Downs approximately south of London, in Surrey, England.- History and development :...

 (d. June 4, 1800) lies thus upon the summit of Box Hill
Box Hill, Surrey
Box Hill is a summit of the North Downs in Surrey, approximately south west of London. The hill takes its name from the ancient box woodland found on the steepest west-facing chalk slopes overlooking the River Mole. The western part of the hill is owned and managed by the National Trust, whilst...

. Similar stories have attached themselves to other noted eccentrics, particularly in southern England, but not always with a foundation in truth.

Burial among African-American slaves

In the African-American slave
History of slavery in the United States
Slavery in the United States was a form of slave labor which existed as a legal institution in North America for more than a century before the founding of the United States in 1776, and continued mostly in the South until the passage of the Thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution in...

 community, slaves quickly familiarized themselves with funeral procedures and the location of gravesites of family and friends. Specific slaves were assigned to prepare dead bodies, build coffins, dig graves, and construct headstones. Slave funerals were typically at night when the workday was over, with the master present to view all the ceremonial procedures. Slaves from nearby plantations were regularly in attendance.

At death, a slave’s body was wrapped in cloth. The hands were placed across the chest, and a metal plate was placed on top of their hands. The reasoning for the plate was to hinder their return home by suppressing any spirits in the coffin. Often, personal property was buried with slaves to appease spirits. The coffins were nailed shut once the body was inside, and carried by hand or wagon, depending on the property designated for slave burial site. Slaves were buried east to west, with the head facing east and their feet to the west. This positioning represented the ability to rise without having to turn around at the call of Gabriel
Gabriel
In Abrahamic religions, Gabriel is an Archangel who typically serves as a messenger to humans from God.He first appears in the Book of Daniel, delivering explanations of Daniel's visions. In the Gospel of Luke Gabriel foretells the births of both John the Baptist and of Jesus...

’s trumpet. Gabriel’s trumpet would be blown in the eastern sunrise.

Burial in the Bahá'í Faith

Bahá'í
Bahá'í Faith
The Bahá'í Faith is a monotheistic religion founded by Bahá'u'lláh in 19th-century Persia, emphasizing the spiritual unity of all humankind. There are an estimated five to six million Bahá'ís around the world in more than 200 countries and territories....

 burial law prescribes both the location of burial and burial practices and precludes cremation of the dead. It is forbidden to carry the body for more than one hour's journey from the place of death. Before interment the body should be wrapped in a shroud of silk or cotton, and a ring should be placed on its finger bearing the inscription "I came forth from God, and return unto Him, detached from all save Him, holding fast to His Name, the Merciful, the Compassionate". The coffin should be of crystal, stone or hard fine wood. Also, before interment, a specific Prayer for the Dead is ordained. The body should be placed with the feet facing the Qiblih
Qiblih
In the Bahá'í Faith the Qiblih is the location that Bahá'ís should face when saying their daily obligatory prayers, and is fixed at the Shrine of Bahá'u'lláh, near `Akká, in present day Israel; approximately at ....

. The formal prayer and the ring are meant to be used for those who have reached fifteen years of age.

Where to bury

Apart from sanitary and other practical considerations, the site of burial can be determined by religious and socio-cultural considerations.

Thus in some traditions, especially with an animistic logic, the remains of the dead are "banished" for fear their spirits would harm the living if too close; others keep remains close to help surviving generations.

Religious rules may prescribe a specific zone, e.g. some Christian traditions hold that Christians must be buried in "consecrated ground
Consecration
Consecration is the solemn dedication to a special purpose or service, usually religious. The word "consecration" literally means "to associate with the sacred". Persons, places, or things can be consecrated, and the term is used in various ways by different groups...

", usually a cemetery
Cemetery
A cemetery is a place in which dead bodies and cremated remains are buried. The term "cemetery" implies that the land is specifically designated as a burying ground. Cemeteries in the Western world are where the final ceremonies of death are observed...

; an earlier practice, burial in or very near the church (hence the word churchyard), was generally abandoned with individual exceptions as a high posthumous honour; also many existing funeral monuments and crypts remain in use.

Royalty and high nobility often have one or more "traditional" sites of burial, generally monumental, often in a palatial chapel or cathedral; see examples on Heraldica.org.

In North America, private family cemeteries were common among wealthy landowners during the 18th and 19th centuries. Many prominent people were buried in private cemeteries on their respective properties, sometimes in lead-lined coffins. Many of these family cemeteries were not documented and were therefore lost to time and abandon; their grave markers having long since been pilfered by vandals or covered by forest growth. Their locations are occasionally discovered during construction projects.

Marking the location of the burial

Most modern cultures mark the location of the body with a headstone
Headstone
A headstone, tombstone, or gravestone is a marker, usually stone, that is placed over a grave. In most cases they have the deceased's name, date of birth, and date of death inscribed on them, along with a personal message, or prayer.- Use :...

. This serves two purposes. First, the grave
Grave (burial)
A grave is a location where a dead body is buried. Graves are usually located in special areas set aside for the purpose of burial, such as graveyards or cemeteries....

 will not accidentally be exhumed. Second, headstones often contain information or tributes to deceased. This is a form of remembrance for loved ones; it can also be viewed as a form of immortality
Immortality
Immortality is the ability to live forever. It is unknown whether human physical immortality is an achievable condition. Biological forms have inherent limitations which may or may not be able to be overcome through medical interventions or engineering...

, especially in cases of famous people's graves. Such monumental inscription
Monumental inscription
A monumental inscription is an inscription, typically carved in stone, on a grave marker, cenotaph, memorial plaque, church monument or other memorial....

s may subsequently be useful to genealogists and family historians.

In many cultures graves will be grouped, so the monuments make up a necropolis
Necropolis
A necropolis is a large cemetery or burial ground, usually including structural tombs. The word comes from the Greek νεκρόπολις - nekropolis, literally meaning "city of the dead"...

, a "city of the dead" parallelling the community of the living.

Unmarked grave

In many cultures graves are marked with durable markers, or monuments, intended to help remind people of the buried person. An unmarked grave
Unmarked grave
The phrase unmarked grave has metaphorical meaning in the context of cultures that mark burial sites.As a figure of speech, a common meaning of the term "unmarked grave" is consignment to oblivion, i.e., an ignominious end. A grave monument is a sign of respect and fondness, erected with the...

 is a grave
Grave (burial)
A grave is a location where a dead body is buried. Graves are usually located in special areas set aside for the purpose of burial, such as graveyards or cemeteries....

 with no such memorial marker.

The corpse of Pope Formosus
Pope Formosus
Pope Formosus was Pope of the Catholic Church from 891 to 896. His brief reign as Pope was troubled, and his remains were exhumed and put on trial in the notorious Cadaver Synod.-Biography:...

 was actually disinterred, placed on trial (see Cadaver Synod
Cadaver Synod
The Cadaver Synod is the name commonly given to the posthumous ecclesiastical trial of Catholic Pope Formosus, held in the Basilica of St...

), found guilty, and ultimately thrown into the River Tiber.

Anonymous burial

Another sort of unmarked grave is a burial site with an anonymous marker, such as a simple cross
Cross
A cross is a geometrical figure consisting of two lines or bars perpendicular to each other, dividing one or two of the lines in half. The lines usually run vertically and horizontally; if they run obliquely, the design is technically termed a saltire, although the arms of a saltire need not meet...

; boots, rifle and helmet; a sword and shield; a cairn of stones; or even a monument. This may occur when identification of the deceased is impossible. Although many unidentified deceased are buried in potter's field
Potter's field
A potter's field was an American term for a place for the burial of unknown or indigent people. The expression derives from the Bible, referring to a field used for the extraction of potter's clay, which was useless for agriculture but could be used as a burial site.-Origin:The term comes from...

s, some are memorialized, especially in smaller communities or in the case of deaths publicized by local media.

Many countries have buried an unidentified soldier (or other member of the military) in a prominent location as a form of respect for all unidentified war dead. The United Kingdom
United Kingdom
The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern IrelandIn the United Kingdom and Dependencies, other languages have been officially recognised as legitimate autochthonous languages under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages...

's Tomb of the Unknown Warrior is in Westminster Abbey
Westminster Abbey
The Collegiate Church of St Peter at Westminster, popularly known as Westminster Abbey, is a large, mainly Gothic church, in the City of Westminster, London, United Kingdom, located just to the west of the Palace of Westminster. It is the traditional place of coronation and burial site for English,...

, France
France
The French Republic , The French Republic , The French Republic , (commonly known as France , is a unitary semi-presidential republic in Western Europe with several overseas territories and islands located on other continents and in the Indian, Pacific, and Atlantic oceans. Metropolitan France...

's is buried underneath the Arc de Triomphe
Arc de Triomphe
-The design:The astylar design is by Jean Chalgrin , in the Neoclassical version of ancient Roman architecture . Major academic sculptors of France are represented in the sculpture of the Arc de Triomphe: Jean-Pierre Cortot; François Rude; Antoine Étex; James Pradier and Philippe Joseph Henri Lemaire...

, Italy
Italy
Italy , officially the Italian Republic languages]] under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages. In each of these, Italy's official name is as follows:;;;;;;;;), is a unitary parliamentary republic in South-Central Europe. To the north it borders France, Switzerland, Austria and...

's is buried in the Monumento al Milite Ignoto in Rome
Rome
Rome is the capital of Italy and the country's largest and most populated city and comune, with over 2.7 million residents in . The city is located in the central-western portion of the Italian Peninsula, on the Tiber River within the Lazio region of Italy.Rome's history spans two and a half...

, Canada
Canada
Canada is a North American country consisting of ten provinces and three territories. Located in the northern part of the continent, it extends from the Atlantic Ocean in the east to the Pacific Ocean in the west, and northward into the Arctic Ocean...

's is buried at the National War Memorial
National War Memorial (Canada)
The National War Memorial , is a tall granite cenotaph with acreted bronze sculptures, that stands in Confederation Square, Ottawa, and serves as the federal war memorial for Canada....

 in Ottawa, Australia
Australia
Australia , officially the Commonwealth of Australia, is a country in the Southern Hemisphere comprising the mainland of the Australian continent, the island of Tasmania, and numerous smaller islands in the Indian and Pacific Oceans. It is the world's sixth-largest country by total area...

's Tomb of the Unknown Soldier
Tomb of the Unknown Soldier
Tomb of the Unknown Soldier refers to a grave in which the unidentifiable remains of a soldier are interred. Such tombs can be found in many nations and are usually high-profile national monuments. Throughout history, many soldiers have died in wars without their remains being identified...

 is located at the Australian War Memorial
Australian War Memorial
The Australian War Memorial is Australia's national memorial to the members of all its armed forces and supporting organisations who have died or participated in the wars of the Commonwealth of Australia...

 in Canberra
Canberra
Canberra is the capital city of Australia. With a population of over 345,000, it is Australia's largest inland city and the eighth-largest city overall. The city is located at the northern end of the Australian Capital Territory , south-west of Sydney, and north-east of Melbourne...

, New Zealand
New Zealand
New Zealand is an island country in the south-western Pacific Ocean comprising two main landmasses and numerous smaller islands. The country is situated some east of Australia across the Tasman Sea, and roughly south of the Pacific island nations of New Caledonia, Fiji, and Tonga...

's Tomb of the Unknown Warrior
New Zealand Tomb of the Unknown Warrior
The New Zealand Tomb of the Unknown Warrior is at the National War Memorial in Buckle Street, Wellington. The remains of the Warrior, one of the 18,166 New Zealand casualties of World War I, were exhumed on 10 October 2004 from the Caterpillar Valley Cemetery, near where the New Zealand Division...

 is in Wellington
Wellington
Wellington is the capital city and third most populous urban area of New Zealand, although it is likely to have surpassed Christchurch due to the exodus following the Canterbury Earthquake. It is at the southwestern tip of the North Island, between Cook Strait and the Rimutaka Range...

 and the United States' Tomb of the Unknown Soldier
Tomb of the Unknowns
The Tomb of the Unknowns is a monument dedicated to American service members who have died without their remains being identified. It is located in Arlington National Cemetery in the United States...

 is located at Arlington National Cemetery
Arlington National Cemetery
Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington County, Virginia, is a military cemetery in the United States of America, established during the American Civil War on the grounds of Arlington House, formerly the estate of the family of Confederate general Robert E. Lee's wife Mary Anna Lee, a great...

.

Many cultures practise anonymous burial as a norm, not an exception. For instance, in parts of eastern Germany, up to 43% of burials are anonymous. According to Christian Century magazine, the perspective of the Roman Catholic Church is that anonymous burials reflect a dwindling belief in God, but others claim that the practice relates more to the exorbitant cost of grave markers and the solitary nature of German life.

Secret burial

In rare cases, a known person may be buried without identification, perhaps to avoid desecration
Desecration
Desecration is the act of depriving something of its sacred character, or the disrespectful or contemptuous treatment of that which is held to be sacred or holy by a group or individual.-Detail:...

 of the corpse, grave robbing
Grave robbing
Grave robbery, grave robbing, or tomb raiding is the act of uncovering a tomb or crypt to steal artifacts or personal effects. Someone who engages in this act is a grave robber or tomb raider...

, or vandalism of the burial site. This may be particularly the case with infamous or notorious figures. In other cases, it may be to prevent the grave from becoming a tourist
Tourism
Tourism is travel for recreational, leisure or business purposes. The World Tourism Organization defines tourists as people "traveling to and staying in places outside their usual environment for not more than one consecutive year for leisure, business and other purposes".Tourism has become a...

 attraction or a destination of pilgrimage
Pilgrimage
A pilgrimage is a journey or search of great moral or spiritual significance. Typically, it is a journey to a shrine or other location of importance to a person's beliefs and faith...

. Survivors may cause the deceased to be buried in a secret location or other unpublished place, or in a grave with a false name (or no name at all) on the marker.

When Walt Disney
Walt Disney
Walter Elias "Walt" Disney was an American film producer, director, screenwriter, voice actor, animator, entrepreneur, entertainer, international icon, and philanthropist, well-known for his influence in the field of entertainment during the 20th century. Along with his brother Roy O...

 was cremated
Cremation
Cremation is the process of reducing bodies to basic chemical compounds such as gasses and bone fragments. This is accomplished through high-temperature burning, vaporization and oxidation....

 his ashes were buried in a secret location in Forest Lawn Memorial Park Cemetery, California. Some burial sites at Forest Lawn, such as those of Humphrey Bogart
Humphrey Bogart
Humphrey DeForest Bogart was an American actor. He is widely regarded as a cultural icon.The American Film Institute ranked Bogart as the greatest male star in the history of American cinema....

, Mary Pickford
Mary Pickford
Mary Pickford was a Canadian-born motion picture actress, co-founder of the film studio United Artists and one of the original 36 founders of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences...

 and Michael Jackson
Michael Jackson
Michael Joseph Jackson was an American recording artist, entertainer, and businessman. Referred to as the King of Pop, or by his initials MJ, Jackson is recognized as the most successful entertainer of all time by Guinness World Records...

 are secluded in private gated gardens or mausoleums with no public access. A number of tombs are also kept from the public eye. Forest Lawn's Court of Honor indicates that some of its crypts have plots which are reserved for individuals who may be "voted in" as "Immortals"; no amount of money can purchase a place. Photographs taken at Forest Lawn are not permitted to be published, and their information office usually refuses to reveal exactly where the remains of famous people are buried. Although the cemetery's owners state that this is meant to deter gravesite tourism, some critics say that the cemetery wishes visitors to purchase memorabilia at the funeral home's numerous gift shops instead of taking photographs for free, especially in the case of grave markers notable for their beauty.

Multiple bodies per grave

Some couples or groups of people (such as a married couple
Marriage
Marriage is a social union or legal contract between people that creates kinship. It is an institution in which interpersonal relationships, usually intimate and sexual, are acknowledged in a variety of ways, depending on the culture or subculture in which it is found...

 or other family members) may wish to be buried in the same plot. In some cases, the coffins (or urns) may simply be buried side by side. In others, one casket may be interred above another. If this is planned for in advance, the first casket may be buried more deeply than is the usual practice so that the second casket may be placed over it without disturbing the first. In many states in Australia all graves are designated two or three depth (depending of the water table) for multiple burials, at the discretion of the burial rights holder, with each new interment atop the previous coffin separated by a thin layer of earth. As such all graves are dug to greater depth for the initial burial than the traditional six feet to facilitate this practice.

Mass burial is the practice of burying multiple bodies in one location. Civilizations attempting genocide
Genocide
Genocide is defined as "the deliberate and systematic destruction, in whole or in part, of an ethnic, racial, religious, or national group", though what constitutes enough of a "part" to qualify as genocide has been subject to much debate by legal scholars...

 often employ mass burial for victims. However, mass burial may in many cases be the only practical means of dealing with an overwhelming number of human remains, such as those resulting from a natural disaster
Natural disaster
A natural disaster is the effect of a natural hazard . It leads to financial, environmental or human losses...

, an act of terrorism
Terrorism
Terrorism is the systematic use of terror, especially as a means of coercion. In the international community, however, terrorism has no universally agreed, legally binding, criminal law definition...

, an epidemic
Epidemic
In epidemiology, an epidemic , occurs when new cases of a certain disease, in a given human population, and during a given period, substantially exceed what is expected based on recent experience...

, or an accident
Accident
An accident or mishap is an unforeseen and unplanned event or circumstance, often with lack of intention or necessity. It implies a generally negative outcome which may have been avoided or prevented had circumstances leading up to the accident been recognized, and acted upon, prior to its...

. This practice has become less common in the developed world with the advent of genetic testing
Genetic testing
Genetic testing is among the newest and most sophisticated of techniques used to test for genetic disorders which involves direct examination of the DNA molecule itself. Other genetic tests include biochemical tests for such gene products as enzymes and other proteins and for microscopic...

, but even in the 21st century remains which are unidentifiable by current methods may be buried in a mass grave.

Individuals who are buried at the expense of the local authorities and buried in potter's field
Potter's field
A potter's field was an American term for a place for the burial of unknown or indigent people. The expression derives from the Bible, referring to a field used for the extraction of potter's clay, which was useless for agriculture but could be used as a burial site.-Origin:The term comes from...

s may be buried in mass graves. Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart , baptismal name Johannes Chrysostomus Wolfgangus Theophilus Mozart , was a prolific and influential composer of the Classical era. He composed over 600 works, many acknowledged as pinnacles of symphonic, concertante, chamber, piano, operatic, and choral music...

 was once believed to have been buried in such a manner, but today it is known that such burials were never allowed in Mozart's Vienna whose Magistrate refused to agree to the burial regulations decreed by Joseph II
Joseph II
Joseph II may refer to:*Joseph II *Joseph II, Holy Roman Emperor Austria*Patriarch Joseph II of Constantinople *Pope Joseph II of Alexandria...

. In some cases, the remains of unidentified individuals may be buried in mass graves in potter's fields, making exhumation and future identification troublesome for law enforcement.

Naval ships sunk in combat are also considered mass graves by many countries. For example, U.S. Navy policy declares such wrecks a mass grave and forbids the recovery of remains. In lieu of recovery, divers or submersibles may leave a plaque dedicated to the memory of the ship or boat and its crew, and family members are invited to attend the ceremony.

Sites of large former battlefields may also contain one or more mass graves. Douaumont ossuary
Douaumont ossuary
The Douaumont ossuary is a memorial containing the remains of soldiers who died on the battlefield during the Battle of Verdun in World War I. It is located in Douaumont, France, within the Verdun battlefield.-History:...

 is one such mass grave, and it contains the remains of 130,000 soldiers from both sides of the battle of Verdun
Battle of Verdun
The Battle of Verdun was one of the major battles during the First World War on the Western Front. It was fought between the German and French armies, from 21 February – 18 December 1916, on hilly terrain north of the city of Verdun-sur-Meuse in north-eastern France...

.

Catacombs
Catacombs
Catacombs, human-made subterranean passageways for religious practice. Any chamber used as a burial place can be described as a catacomb, although the word is most commonly associated with the Roman empire...

 also constitute a form of mass grave. Some catacombs, for example those in Rome
Catacombs of Rome
The Catacombs of Rome are ancient catacombs, underground burial places under or near Rome, Italy, of which there are at least forty, some discovered only in recent decades. Though most famous for Christian burials, either in separate catacombs or mixed together, they began in the 2nd century, much...

, were designated as a communal burial place. Some, such as the catacombs of Paris
Catacombs of Paris
The Catacombs of Paris or Catacombes de Paris are an underground ossuary in Paris, France. Located south of the former city gate , the ossuary holds the remains of about 6 million people and fills a renovated section of caverns and tunnels that are the remains of Paris' stone mines...

, only became a mass grave when individual burials were relocated from cemeteries marked for demolition.

Judaism does not generally allow multiple bodies in a grave. An exception to this is a grave in the military cemetery in Jerusalem, where there is a kever achim (Hebrew
Hebrew language
Hebrew is a Semitic language of the Afroasiatic language family. Culturally, is it considered by Jews and other religious groups as the language of the Jewish people, though other Jewish languages had originated among diaspora Jews, and the Hebrew language is also used by non-Jewish groups, such...

, "grave of brothers") where two soldiers were killed together in a tank and are buried in one grave. As the bodies were so fused together with the metal of the tank that they could not be separately identified, they were buried in one grave (along with parts of the tank).

Cremation

There are several common alternatives to burial. In cremation
Cremation
Cremation is the process of reducing bodies to basic chemical compounds such as gasses and bone fragments. This is accomplished through high-temperature burning, vaporization and oxidation....

 the body of the deceased is burned in a special oven
Oven
An oven is a thermally insulated chamber used for the heating, baking or drying of a substance. It is most commonly used for cooking. Kilns, and furnaces are special-purpose ovens...

. Most of the body is burnt
Combustion
Combustion or burning is the sequence of exothermic chemical reactions between a fuel and an oxidant accompanied by the production of heat and conversion of chemical species. The release of heat can result in the production of light in the form of either glowing or a flame...

 during the cremation process, leaving only a few pounds of bone
Bone
Bones are rigid organs that constitute part of the endoskeleton of vertebrates. They support, and protect the various organs of the body, produce red and white blood cells and store minerals. Bone tissue is a type of dense connective tissue...

 fragments. Bodies of small child
Child
Biologically, a child is generally a human between the stages of birth and puberty. Some vernacular definitions of a child include the fetus, as being an unborn child. The legal definition of "child" generally refers to a minor, otherwise known as a person younger than the age of majority...

ren and infant
Infant
A newborn or baby is the very young offspring of a human or other mammal. A newborn is an infant who is within hours, days, or up to a few weeks from birth. In medical contexts, newborn or neonate refers to an infant in the first 28 days after birth...

s often produce very little in the way of "ashes", as ashes are composed of bone, and young people have softer bones, largely cartilage
Cartilage
Cartilage is a flexible connective tissue found in many areas in the bodies of humans and other animals, including the joints between bones, the rib cage, the ear, the nose, the elbow, the knee, the ankle, the bronchial tubes and the intervertebral discs...

. Often these fragments are processed (ground) into a fine powder, which has led to cremated remains being called ashes. In recent times, cremation has become a popular option in the western world.

There is far greater flexibility in dealing with the remains in cremation as opposed to the traditional burial. Some of the options include scattering the ashes at a place close to the heart of the deceased or keeping the ashes at home. Ashes can also be buried underground or in a columbarium
Columbarium
A columbarium is a place for the respectful and usually public storage of cinerary urns . The term comes from the Latin columba and originally referred to compartmentalized housing for doves and pigeons .The Columbarium of Pomponius Hylas is a particularly fine ancient Roman example, rich in...

 niche.

A method with similar benefits, but ecologically superior, is freeze-drying the corpse.

Live burial

Live burial sometimes occurs, in which individuals are buried while still alive. Having no way of escaping interment, they die in place, typically by asphyxia
Asphyxia
Asphyxia or asphyxiation is a condition of severely deficient supply of oxygen to the body that arises from being unable to breathe normally. An example of asphyxia is choking. Asphyxia causes generalized hypoxia, which primarily affects the tissues and organs...

tion, dehydration
Dehydration
In physiology and medicine, dehydration is defined as the excessive loss of body fluid. It is literally the removal of water from an object; however, in physiological terms, it entails a deficiency of fluid within an organism...

, starvation
Starvation
Starvation is a severe deficiency in caloric energy, nutrient and vitamin intake. It is the most extreme form of malnutrition. In humans, prolonged starvation can cause permanent organ damage and eventually, death...

, or (in cold or hot climates) exposure
Hypothermia
Hypothermia is a condition in which core temperature drops below the required temperature for normal metabolism and body functions which is defined as . Body temperature is usually maintained near a constant level of through biologic homeostasis or thermoregulation...

. People may come to be buried alive in a number of different ways:
  • Intentional: buried alive as a method of execution or murder
    Murder
    Murder is the unlawful killing, with malice aforethought, of another human being, and generally this state of mind distinguishes murder from other forms of unlawful homicide...

    , called immurement
    Immurement
    Immurement is a form of execution where a person is walled up within a building and left to die from starvation or dehydration. This is distinct from being buried alive, in which the victim typically dies of asphyxiation.-In legend and folklore:...

    when the person is entombed within walls. In ancient Rome
    Ancient Rome
    Ancient Rome was a thriving civilization that grew on the Italian Peninsula as early as the 8th century BC. Located along the Mediterranean Sea and centered on the city of Rome, it expanded to one of the largest empires in the ancient world....

    , Vestal Virgin
    Vestal Virgin
    In ancient Roman religion, the Vestals or Vestal Virgins , were priestesses of Vesta, goddess of the hearth. The College of the Vestals and its well-being was regarded as fundamental to the continuance and security of Rome, as embodied by their cultivation of the sacred fire that could not be...

    s who broke their vows were punished in this way.
  • Accidental: A person or group of people in a cave, mine, or other underground area may be sealed underground due to an earthquake
    Earthquake
    An earthquake is the result of a sudden release of energy in the Earth's crust that creates seismic waves. The seismicity, seismism or seismic activity of an area refers to the frequency, type and size of earthquakes experienced over a period of time...

    , cave in
    Cave In
    Cave In is an American rock band that formed in 1995, in Methuen, Massachusetts. After several members changes in the late 90's, their lineup solidified with the 1998 release of Until Your Heart Stops through Hydra Head Records. Their early albums were prominent releases in the independent...

    , or other natural disaster
    Natural disaster
    A natural disaster is the effect of a natural hazard . It leads to financial, environmental or human losses...

     or accident
    Accident
    An accident or mishap is an unforeseen and unplanned event or circumstance, often with lack of intention or necessity. It implies a generally negative outcome which may have been avoided or prevented had circumstances leading up to the accident been recognized, and acted upon, prior to its...

    . Live burial may also occur due to avalanche
    Avalanche
    An avalanche is a sudden rapid flow of snow down a slope, occurring when either natural triggers or human activity causes a critical escalating transition from the slow equilibrium evolution of the snow pack. Typically occurring in mountainous terrain, an avalanche can mix air and water with the...

    s on mountain slopes.
  • Inadvertent: People have been unintentionally buried alive because they were pronounced dead by a coroner
    Coroner
    A coroner is a government official who* Investigates human deaths* Determines cause of death* Issues death certificates* Maintains death records* Responds to deaths in mass disasters* Identifies unknown dead* Other functions depending on local laws...

     or other official, when they were in fact still alive.


Writer Edgar Allan Poe
Edgar Allan Poe
Edgar Allan Poe was an American author, poet, editor and literary critic, considered part of the American Romantic Movement. Best known for his tales of mystery and the macabre, Poe was one of the earliest American practitioners of the short story and is considered the inventor of the detective...

 wrote a number of stories and poems about premature burial, including a story called "The Premature Burial." These works inspired a widespread popular fear of this appalling but unlikely event. Various expedients have been devised to prevent this event, including burying live telephones or telemetry sensors in graves.

Burial at cross-roads

Historically, burial at cross-roads
Crossroads (culture)
In folk magic and mythology, crossroads may represent a location "between the worlds" and, as such, a site where supernatural spirits can be contacted and paranormal events can take place...

was the method of disposing of executed criminal
Crime
Crime is the breach of rules or laws for which some governing authority can ultimately prescribe a conviction...

s and persons who have committed suicide
Suicide
Suicide is the act of intentionally causing one's own death. Suicide is often committed out of despair or attributed to some underlying mental disorder, such as depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, alcoholism, or drug abuse...

. Cross-roads form a crude cross shape and this may have given rise to the belief that these spots were selected as the next best burying-places to consecrated ground. Another possible explanation is that the ancient Teutonic
Teutons
The Teutons or Teutones were mentioned as a Germanic tribe by Greek and Roman authors, notably Strabo and Marcus Velleius Paterculus and normally in close connection with the Cimbri, whose ethnicity is contested between Gauls and Germani...

 (Germanic) ethnic groups often built their altars at the cross-roads, and since human sacrifices, especially of criminals, formed part of the ritual, these spots came to be regarded as execution grounds. Hence after the introduction of Christianity
Christianity
Christianity is a monotheistic religion based on the life and teachings of Jesus as presented in canonical gospels and other New Testament writings...

, criminals and suicides were buried at the cross-roads during the night, in order to assimilate as far as possible their funeral to that of the pagans
Paganism
Paganism is a blanket term, typically used to refer to non-Abrahamic, indigenous polytheistic religious traditions....

. An example of a cross-road execution-ground was the famous Tyburn
Tyburn, London
Tyburn was a village in the county of Middlesex close to the current location of Marble Arch in present-day London. It took its name from the Tyburn or Teo Bourne 'boundary stream', a tributary of the River Thames which is now completely covered over between its source and its outfall into the...

 in London
London
London is the capital city of :England and the :United Kingdom, the largest metropolitan area in the United Kingdom, and the largest urban zone in the European Union by most measures. Located on the River Thames, London has been a major settlement for two millennia, its history going back to its...

, which stood on the spot where the Roman road
Roman road
The Roman roads were a vital part of the development of the Roman state, from about 500 BC through the expansion during the Roman Republic and the Roman Empire. Roman roads enabled the Romans to move armies and trade goods and to communicate. The Roman road system spanned more than 400,000 km...

 to Edgware
Edgware
Edgware is an area in London, situated north-northwest of Charing Cross. It forms part of both the London Borough of Barnet and the London Borough of Harrow. The area is identified in the London Plan as one of 35 major centres in Greater London....

 and beyond met the Roman road heading west out of London.

Superstition also played a part in the selection of cross-roads in the burial of suicides. Folk belief often held such individuals could rise as some form of undead
Undead
Undead is a collective name for fictional, mythological, or legendary beings that are deceased and yet behave as if alive. Undead may be incorporeal, such as ghosts, or corporeal, such as vampires and zombies...

 (such as a vampire
Vampire
Vampires are mythological or folkloric beings who subsist by feeding on the life essence of living creatures, regardless of whether they are undead or a living person...

) and burying them at cross-roads would inhibit their ability to find and wreak havoc on their living relations and former associates.

By humans

In addition to burying human remains, many human cultures also regularly bury animal
Animal
Animals are a major group of multicellular, eukaryotic organisms of the kingdom Animalia or Metazoa. Their body plan eventually becomes fixed as they develop, although some undergo a process of metamorphosis later on in their life. Most animals are motile, meaning they can move spontaneously and...

 remains.

Pet
Pet
A pet is a household animal kept for companionship and a person's enjoyment, as opposed to wild animals or to livestock, laboratory animals, working animals or sport animals, which are kept for economic or productive reasons. The most popular pets are noted for their loyal or playful...

s and other animals of emotional significance are often ceremonially buried. Most families bury deceased pets on their own properties, mainly in a yard, with a shoe box
Shoe Box
"Shoe Box" is a song by Canadian band Barenaked Ladies, released as a single from their 1995 album, Born on a Pirate Ship. It is notable for being featured on the first soundtrack to the television series Friends, as well as the last track on the band's Born on a Pirate Ship album...

 or any other type of container served as a coffin
Coffin
A coffin is a funerary box used in the display and containment of dead people – either for burial or cremation.Contemporary North American English makes a distinction between "coffin", which is generally understood to denote a funerary box having six sides in plan view, and "casket", which...

. The Ancient Egypt
Ancient Egypt
Ancient Egypt was an ancient civilization of Northeastern Africa, concentrated along the lower reaches of the Nile River in what is now the modern country of Egypt. Egyptian civilization coalesced around 3150 BC with the political unification of Upper and Lower Egypt under the first pharaoh...

ians are known to have mummified
Mummy
A mummy is a body, human or animal, whose skin and organs have been preserved by either intentional or incidental exposure to chemicals, extreme coldness , very low humidity, or lack of air when bodies are submerged in bogs, so that the recovered body will not decay further if kept in cool and dry...

 and buried cat
Cat
The cat , also known as the domestic cat or housecat to distinguish it from other felids and felines, is a small, usually furry, domesticated, carnivorous mammal that is valued by humans for its companionship and for its ability to hunt vermin and household pests...

s, which they considered deities
Deity
A deity is a recognized preternatural or supernatural immortal being, who may be thought of as holy, divine, or sacred, held in high regard, and respected by believers....

.

By other animals

Humans are not always the only species to bury their dead. Chimpanzee
Chimpanzee
Chimpanzee, sometimes colloquially chimp, is the common name for the two extant species of ape in the genus Pan. The Congo River forms the boundary between the native habitat of the two species:...

s and elephant
Elephant
Elephants are large land mammals in two extant genera of the family Elephantidae: Elephas and Loxodonta, with the third genus Mammuthus extinct...

s are known to throw leaves and branches over fallen members of their family groups. In a particularly odd case, an elephant which trampled a mother and child buried its victim under a pile of leaves before disappearing into the bushes.

Exhumation

The digging up of a buried body is called exhumation or disinterment, and is generally considered sacrilege
Sacrilege
Sacrilege is the violation or injurious treatment of a sacred object. In a less proper sense, any transgression against the virtue of religion would be a sacrilege. It can come in the form of irreverence to sacred persons, places, and things...

 or taboo
Taboo
A taboo is a strong social prohibition relating to any area of human activity or social custom that is sacred and or forbidden based on moral judgment, religious beliefs and or scientific consensus. Breaking the taboo is usually considered objectionable or abhorrent by society...

 by most cultures that bury their dead.
Exceptions are sometimes allowed:
  • If an individual dies in suspicious circumstances, the police
    Police
    The police is a personification of the state designated to put in practice the enforced law, protect property and reduce civil disorder in civilian matters. Their powers include the legitimized use of force...

     may request exhumation in order to determine the cause of death
    Autopsy
    An autopsy—also known as a post-mortem examination, necropsy , autopsia cadaverum, or obduction—is a highly specialized surgical procedure that consists of a thorough examination of a corpse to determine the cause and manner of death and to evaluate any disease or injury that may be present...

    .
  • Deceased individuals who were either not identified or misidentified at the time of burial may be reburied if survivors so wish.
  • In Southern Chinese culture, graves are opened after a period of years. The bones are removed, cleaned, dried, and placed in a ceramic pot for reburial (in Taiwan
    Taiwan
    Taiwan , also known, especially in the past, as Formosa , is the largest island of the same-named island group of East Asia in the western Pacific Ocean and located off the southeastern coast of mainland China. The island forms over 99% of the current territory of the Republic of China following...

    ), or in a smaller coffin to be taken home by the rest of the family (in Vietnam). The practice is called jiǎngǔ in Taiwan, or boc mo in Vietnam '揀骨 “digging up bones” and is an important ritual in the posthumous “care” of children for their deceased parents and ancestors. Failure to carry out this ritual is considered a failure of filial piety
    Filial piety
    In Confucian ideals, filial piety is one of the virtues to be held above all else: a respect for the parents and ancestors. The Confucian classic Xiao Jing or Classic of Xiào, thought to be written around 470 BCE, has historically been the authoritative source on the Confucian tenet of xiào /...

    .
  • Similarly in Hong Kong
    Hong Kong
    Hong Kong is one of two Special Administrative Regions of the People's Republic of China , the other being Macau. A city-state situated on China's south coast and enclosed by the Pearl River Delta and South China Sea, it is renowned for its expansive skyline and deep natural harbour...

     where real estate is at a premium, burials in government-run cemeteries are disinterred after six years under exhumation order. Remains are either collected privately for cremation or reburied in an urn or niche. Unclaimed burials are exhumed and cremated by the government. Permanent burial in privately run cemeteries is allowed.
  • Remains may be exhumed in order to be reinterred at a more appropriate location. For example, when the remains of MIA
    Missing in action
    Missing in action is a casualty Category assigned under the Status of Missing to armed services personnel who are reported missing during active service. They may have been killed, wounded, become a prisoner of war, or deserted. If deceased, neither their remains nor grave can be positively...

     soldiers are discovered, or the case of Nicholas II of Russia
    Nicholas II of Russia
    Nicholas II was the last Emperor of Russia, Grand Prince of Finland, and titular King of Poland. His official short title was Nicholas II, Emperor and Autocrat of All the Russias and he is known as Saint Nicholas the Passion-Bearer by the Russian Orthodox Church.Nicholas II ruled from 1894 until...

     and his family, who were exhumed from unmarked grave
    Unmarked grave
    The phrase unmarked grave has metaphorical meaning in the context of cultures that mark burial sites.As a figure of speech, a common meaning of the term "unmarked grave" is consignment to oblivion, i.e., an ignominious end. A grave monument is a sign of respect and fondness, erected with the...

    s near Yekaterinburg
    Yekaterinburg
    Yekaterinburg is a major city in the central part of Russia, the administrative center of Sverdlovsk Oblast. Situated on the eastern side of the Ural mountain range, it is the main industrial and cultural center of the Urals Federal District with a population of 1,350,136 , making it Russia's...

     to be reinterred in the Peter and Paul Fortress
    Peter and Paul Fortress
    The Peter and Paul Fortress is the original citadel of St. Petersburg, Russia, founded by Peter the Great in 1703 and built to Domenico Trezzini's designs from 1706-1740.-History:...

     in St. Petersburg.
  • The passing of time may mean political situations change and a burial can take place in different circumstances. Roger Casement
    Roger Casement
    Roger David Casement —Sir Roger Casement CMG between 1911 and shortly before his execution for treason, when he was stripped of his British honours—was an Irish patriot, poet, revolutionary, and nationalist....

     was executed at Pentonville Prison
    Pentonville (HM Prison)
    HM Prison Pentonville is a Category B/C men's prison, operated by Her Majesty's Prison Service. Pentonville Prison is not actually within Pentonville itself, but is located further north, on the Caledonian Road in the Barnsbury area of the London Borough of Islington, in inner-North London,...

     in London on 3 August 1916 and buried in the prison grounds but his body was exhumed given a state funeral in Dublin on 1 March 1965.
  • The remains of the Venerable
    Venerable
    The Venerable is used as a style or epithet in several Christian churches. It is also the common English-language translation of a number of Buddhist titles.-Roman Catholic:...

     or the Blessed
    Beatification
    Beatification is a recognition accorded by the Catholic Church of a dead person's entrance into Heaven and capacity to intercede on behalf of individuals who pray in his or her name . Beatification is the third of the four steps in the canonization process...

     are sometimes exhumed to ensure their bodies lie in their correctly-marked graves, as their gravesites usually become places for devotees to gather, and also to collect relics. The bodies may also be transferred to a more dignified place. It also serves the purpose to see if they are supernaturally Incorrupt
    Incorruptibility
    Incorruptibility is a Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox belief that supernatural intervention allows some human bodies to avoid the normal process of decomposition after death as a sign of their holiness...

    . An incorrupt corpse is no longer considered miraculous, but it is a characteristic of several known saints. Exhumation is no longer a requirement in the beatification process, but still may be carried out.
  • Remains may be exhumed and reburied en masse when a cemetery is relocated, once local planning and religious requirements are met.
  • In rare, historical cases (e.g. Pope
    Pope
    The Pope is the Bishop of Rome, a position that makes him the leader of the worldwide Catholic Church . In the Catholic Church, the Pope is regarded as the successor of Saint Peter, the Apostle...

     Formosus or Oliver Cromwell
    Oliver Cromwell
    Oliver Cromwell was an English military and political leader who overthrew the English monarchy and temporarily turned England into a republican Commonwealth, and served as Lord Protector of England, Scotland, and Ireland....

    ), a body may be exhumed for posthumous execution
    Posthumous execution
    Posthumous execution is the ritual or ceremonial mutilation of an already dead body as a punishment.-Examples:* Li Linfu, Chancellor of Tang China during the reign of Emperor Xuanzong in the latter years, was exhumed and executed for crimes of high treason by his rival Yang Guozhong for his...

    , dissection, or gibbet
    Gibbet
    A gibbet is a gallows-type structure from which the dead bodies of executed criminals were hung on public display to deter other existing or potential criminals. In earlier times, up to the late 17th century, live gibbeting also took place, in which the criminal was placed alive in a metal cage...

    ing.
  • Notable individuals may be exhumed to answer historical questions. Many Ancient Egyptian mummies have been removed for study and public display.
  • In the UK once the top of a coffin has been lowered below ground level in a burial if it raised again, say for example the grave sides are protruding and need further work, this is considered an exhumation and the Home Office
    Home Office
    The Home Office is the United Kingdom government department responsible for immigration control, security, and order. As such it is responsible for the police, UK Border Agency, and the Security Service . It is also in charge of government policy on security-related issues such as drugs,...

     are required to be notified and a full investigation undertaken. Therefore grave diggers in the UK are particularly careful to ensure that grave sites are dug with plenty of room for the coffin to pass.


Once human remains reach a certain age, some cultures consider exhumation acceptable, especially if this is followed by later reburial following traditional burial rites. This serves several purposes:
  • Cemeteries
    Cemetery
    A cemetery is a place in which dead bodies and cremated remains are buried. The term "cemetery" implies that the land is specifically designated as a burying ground. Cemeteries in the Western world are where the final ceremonies of death are observed...

     sometimes have a limited number of plots in which to bury the dead. Once all plots are full, older remains may be moved to an ossuary
    Ossuary
    An ossuary is a chest, building, well, or site made to serve as the final resting place of human skeletal remains. They are frequently used where burial space is scarce. A body is first buried in a temporary grave, then after some years the skeletal remains are removed and placed in an ossuary...

     to accommodate more bodies, in accordance with burial contracts, religious
    Faculty (instrument)
    A faculty is a legal instrument or warrant in canon law, especially a judicial or quasi-judicial warrant from an ecclesiastical court or tribunal.In the Roman Catholic Church, it is "the authority, privilege, or permission, to perform an act or function...

    and local burial laws.
  • It enables archaeologists
    Archaeology
    Archaeology, or archeology , is the study of human society, primarily through the recovery and analysis of the material culture and environmental data that they have left behind, which includes artifacts, architecture, biofacts and cultural landscapes...

     to search the remains to better understand human culture.
  • It enables construction
    Construction
    In the fields of architecture and civil engineering, construction is a process that consists of the building or assembling of infrastructure. Far from being a single activity, large scale construction is a feat of human multitasking...

     agencies to clear the way for new constructions. One example of this is cemeteries in Chicago
    Chicago
    Chicago is the largest city in the US state of Illinois. With nearly 2.7 million residents, it is the most populous city in the Midwestern United States and the third most populous in the US, after New York City and Los Angeles...

     next to O'Hare International Airport
    O'Hare International Airport
    Chicago O'Hare International Airport , also known as O'Hare Airport, O'Hare Field, Chicago Airport, Chicago International Airport, or simply O'Hare, is a major airport located in the northwestern-most corner of Chicago, Illinois, United States, northwest of the Chicago Loop...

     to expand the runways.


Frequently, cultures have different sets of exhumation taboo
Taboo
A taboo is a strong social prohibition relating to any area of human activity or social custom that is sacred and or forbidden based on moral judgment, religious beliefs and or scientific consensus. Breaking the taboo is usually considered objectionable or abhorrent by society...

s. Occasionally these differences result in conflict, especially in cases where a culture with more lenient exhumation rules wishes to operate on the territory of a different culture. For example, United States
United States
The United States of America is a federal constitutional republic comprising fifty states and a federal district...

 construction
Construction
In the fields of architecture and civil engineering, construction is a process that consists of the building or assembling of infrastructure. Far from being a single activity, large scale construction is a feat of human multitasking...

 companies have run into conflict with Native American
Native Americans in the United States
Native Americans in the United States are the indigenous peoples in North America within the boundaries of the present-day continental United States, parts of Alaska, and the island state of Hawaii. They are composed of numerous, distinct tribes, states, and ethnic groups, many of which survive as...

 groups that have wanted to preserve their burial grounds from disturbance.

Jewish law
Halakha
Halakha — also transliterated Halocho , or Halacha — is the collective body of Jewish law, including biblical law and later talmudic and rabbinic law, as well as customs and traditions.Judaism classically draws no distinction in its laws between religious and ostensibly non-religious life; Jewish...

 forbids the exhumation of a corpse.

In folklore and mythology, exhumation has also been frequently associated with the performance of rites to banish undead
Undead
Undead is a collective name for fictional, mythological, or legendary beings that are deceased and yet behave as if alive. Undead may be incorporeal, such as ghosts, or corporeal, such as vampires and zombies...

 manifestations. An example is the Mercy Brown Vampire Incident
Mercy Brown vampire incident
The Mercy Brown Vampire Incident, which occurred in 1892, is one of the best documented cases of the exhumation of a corpse in order to perform rituals to banish an undead manifestation....

 of Rhode Island
Rhode Island
The state of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations, more commonly referred to as Rhode Island , is a state in the New England region of the United States. It is the smallest U.S. state by area...

, which occurred in 1892.

Secondary burial

Secondary burial is a burial, cremation, or inhumation that is dug into a pre-existing barrow or grave any time after its initial construction. It is often associated with the belief that there is a liminal phase between the time that a person dies and finally decays.

Alternatives to burial

In most cases these alternatives still intend to maintain respect for the dead, but some intend to prolong the display of the remains.
  • Burial at sea
    Burial at sea
    Burial at sea describes the procedure of disposing of human remains in the ocean, normally from a ship or boat. It is regularly performed by navies, but also can be done by private citizens in many countries.-By religion:...

     is the practice of depositing the body in an ocean
    Ocean
    An ocean is a major body of saline water, and a principal component of the hydrosphere. Approximately 71% of the Earth's surface is covered by ocean, a continuous body of water that is customarily divided into several principal oceans and smaller seas.More than half of this area is over 3,000...

     or other large body of water instead of soil. It may be disposed in a coffin, or without one. Because of the particular logistics of scattering ashes at sea, there are commercial services that do so for a fee.
  • Funerary cannibalism
    Cannibalism
    Cannibalism is the act or practice of humans eating the flesh of other human beings. It is also called anthropophagy...

     is the practice of eating the remains. This may be for many reasons: for example to partake of their strength, to spiritually "close the circle" by reabsorbing their life into the family or clan, to annihilate an enemy, or due to pathological mental conditions. The Yanomami have the habit of cremating the remains and then eating the ashes with banana
    Banana
    Banana is the common name for herbaceous plants of the genus Musa and for the fruit they produce. Bananas come in a variety of sizes and colors when ripe, including yellow, purple, and red....

     paste.
  • Cremation
    Cremation
    Cremation is the process of reducing bodies to basic chemical compounds such as gasses and bone fragments. This is accomplished through high-temperature burning, vaporization and oxidation....

     is the incineration of the remains. This practice is common amongst Hindus and is becoming increasingly common in other cultures as well. If a family member wishes, the ashes can now be turned into a gem, similar to creating synthetic diamonds.
  • Ecological funeral
    Ecological funeral
    Promession is a method for disposing of human remains by way of freeze drying. It was invented and patented in 1999 by a Swedish biologist Susanne Wiigh-Mäsak. The process uses liquid nitrogen followed by vibration to reduce the body remains....

     is a method of increasing the rate of decomposition
    Decomposition
    Decomposition is the process by which organic material is broken down into simpler forms of matter. The process is essential for recycling the finite matter that occupies physical space in the biome. Bodies of living organisms begin to decompose shortly after death...

     in order to help fertilize the soil.
  • Excarnation
    Excarnation
    In archaeology and anthropology, the term, excarnation , refers to the burial practice of removing the flesh and organs of the dead, leaving only the bones....

     is the practice of removing the flesh from the corpse without interment. The Zoroastrians
    Zoroastrianism
    Zoroastrianism is a religion and philosophy based on the teachings of prophet Zoroaster and was formerly among the world's largest religions. It was probably founded some time before the 6th century BCE in Greater Iran.In Zoroastrianism, the Creator Ahura Mazda is all good, and no evil...

     have traditionally left their dead on Towers of Silence, where the flesh of the corpses is left to be devoured by vultures and other carrion-eating birds. Alternatively, it can also mean butcher
    Butcher
    A butcher is a person who may slaughter animals, dress their flesh, sell their meat or any combination of these three tasks. They may prepare standard cuts of meat, poultry, fish and shellfish for sale in retail or wholesale food establishments...

    ing the corpse by hand to remove the flesh (sometimes referred to by the neologism "defleshing").
  • The Use of an Ossuary
    Ossuary
    An ossuary is a chest, building, well, or site made to serve as the final resting place of human skeletal remains. They are frequently used where burial space is scarce. A body is first buried in a temporary grave, then after some years the skeletal remains are removed and placed in an ossuary...

     for human skeletal remains among second temple Jews & early Christians.
  • Gibbet
    Gibbet
    A gibbet is a gallows-type structure from which the dead bodies of executed criminals were hung on public display to deter other existing or potential criminals. In earlier times, up to the late 17th century, live gibbeting also took place, in which the criminal was placed alive in a metal cage...

    ing was the ancient practice of publicly displaying remains of criminals.
  • Hanging coffins
    Hanging coffins
    Hanging coffins are coffins which have been placed on cliffs. They can be found in various locations, including China, Indonesia, and the Philippines. In China, they are known as Xuanguan which also means "hanging coffin".-China:...

     are coffins which have been placed on cliffs. They can be found in various locations, including China
    China
    Chinese civilization may refer to:* China for more general discussion of the country.* Chinese culture* Greater China, the transnational community of ethnic Chinese.* History of China* Sinosphere, the area historically affected by Chinese culture...

     and the Philippines
    Philippines
    The Philippines , officially known as the Republic of the Philippines , is a country in Southeast Asia in the western Pacific Ocean. To its north across the Luzon Strait lies Taiwan. West across the South China Sea sits Vietnam...

    .
  • Resomation
    Resomation
    Alkaline hydrolysis is a process for the disposal of human remains, which its creator states is more ecologically favorable than cremation. The process is being marketed worldwide as an alternative to the traditional options of burial or cremation...

     involves disposal through an accelerated process of alkaline hydrolysis.
  • Sky burial
    Sky burial
    Sky burial, or ritual dissection, is a funerary practice in Tibet, wherein a human corpse was incised in certain locations and placed on a mountaintop, exposing it to the elements and animals – especially to predatory birds. The locations of preparation and sky burial are understood in the...

     involves placing the body on a mountaintop.
  • Cryonics
    Cryonics
    Cryonics is the low-temperature preservation of humans and animals who can no longer be sustained by contemporary medicine, with the hope that healing and resuscitation may be possible in the future. Cryopreservation of people or large animals is not reversible with current technology...

     is often mistakenly assumed as an alternative interment method. In fact it's a procedure to physically preserve a body. Cryonics supporters hope reviving individuals will be technologically feasible one day. See also information theoretical death
    Information theoretical death
    Information-theoretic death is the destruction of the information within a human brain to such an extent that recovery of the original person is theoretically impossible by any physical means...

    ; clinical death
    Clinical death
    Clinical death is the medical term for cessation of blood circulation and breathing, the two necessary criteria to sustain life. It occurs when the heart stops beating in a regular rhythm, a condition called cardiac arrest. The term is also sometimes used in resuscitation research.Stopped blood...

    .

See also

  • Burial mound
  • Cemetery
    Cemetery
    A cemetery is a place in which dead bodies and cremated remains are buried. The term "cemetery" implies that the land is specifically designated as a burying ground. Cemeteries in the Western world are where the final ceremonies of death are observed...

  • Coffin
    Coffin
    A coffin is a funerary box used in the display and containment of dead people – either for burial or cremation.Contemporary North American English makes a distinction between "coffin", which is generally understood to denote a funerary box having six sides in plan view, and "casket", which...

  • Health risks from dead bodies
    Health risks from dead bodies
    The health risks of dead bodies are dangers related to the improper preparation and disposal of cadavers. While normal circumstances allow cadavers to be quickly embalmed, cremated, or buried, natural and man-made disasters can quickly overwhelm and/or interrupt the established protocols for...

  • Funeral
    Funeral
    A funeral is a ceremony for celebrating, sanctifying, or remembering the life of a person who has died. Funerary customs comprise the complex of beliefs and practices used by a culture to remember the dead, from interment itself, to various monuments, prayers, and rituals undertaken in their honor...

  • Grave (burial)
    Grave (burial)
    A grave is a location where a dead body is buried. Graves are usually located in special areas set aside for the purpose of burial, such as graveyards or cemeteries....

  • Green burial
  • Headstone
    Headstone
    A headstone, tombstone, or gravestone is a marker, usually stone, that is placed over a grave. In most cases they have the deceased's name, date of birth, and date of death inscribed on them, along with a personal message, or prayer.- Use :...

  • Museum of Funeral Customs
    Museum of Funeral Customs
    The Museum of Funeral Customs was located at 1440 Monument Ave. in Springfield, Illinois, USA. It featured exhibits dealing with American funerary and mourning customs...

  • Thanatology
    Thanatology
    Thanatology is the scientific study of death. It investigates the mechanisms and forensic aspects of death, such as bodily changes that accompany death and the post-mortem period, as well as wider social aspects related to death. It is primarily an interdisciplinary study offered as a course of...

  • Corpse road
    Corpse road
    Corpse roads provided a practical means for transporting corpses, often from remote communities, to cemeteries that had burial rights, such as parish churches and chapels of ease...


  • External links

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