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Burial Customs

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In this country, there are two main choices when disposing of a human corpse: Burial or cremation. Cremation dates back 20,000 years and has latterly become a popular choice of disposal especially as we continue to run out of suitable sites and space for burial. However, burials are ever present with 30% of the UK population still choosing a traditional burial over cremation.

Christian burials are made extended; body lying flat with legs and arms straight or arms folded over chest, they are buried in an East-West direction with the head at the western end of the grave. Other religions take on a different position. In Islam, the face is always pointed towards Mecca, the holiest city in Islam. Some cultures flex the bodies so the knees and/or elbows are bent, whilst others have the body face down, although to most this is a sign of disrespect. With suicides, it was often the case that they would bury the bodies upside down and although this is purely symbolic it tends not to happen anymore.

The ancient Egyptians had an elaborate burial ritual which involved mummification and casting magical spells. The bodies were also buried with specific grave goods, all of which were considered to aid in afterlife. For the African American slaves, they were wrapped in cloth, hands placed across chest and a metal plate placed over their heads. The metal plate was to stop their return home by hindering the spirit from leaving the coffin.

There is a huge variety of burial customs depending on religion, geography, social status and traditions, and with the first undisputed burial dating back 130, 000 years it is no wonder different rituals and customs have transpired. Interestingly, in the UK, the WHO (World Health Organization) state that burial of bodies isn’t strictly needed and is not a public health requirement. Only if the body has an infectious disease must it be buried. Still, what’s the alternative? If you were in Tibet, you would have a sky burial which simply means your body is cut up in specific places and positioned on mountain tops to feed back to nature. This seems a practical consideration especially since the Tibetan landscape is tough and often too rocky to dig, but would you fancy knowing that’s what will happen to your body?

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