When you think of a typical burial, one thing usually comes to mind: a classic coffin buried in the earth. These days, however, more and more unique and unconventional burial methods are becoming available! And when you look to the past, you’ll quickly discover that the ways that human beings have buried the dead is far from monotonous. Different cultures all over the world have developed and re-developed amazing ways to bury the dead in their communities. So, if you are open to learning more about these diverse traditions (and are interested in learning about some burial methods of the past!), check out this list of some of the most interesting unconventional burials from around the world!
A sky burial is a natural burial method that is traditionally practiced in Mongolia, Tibet, and a few other provinces in China. Because many people in these regions adhere to Vajrayana Buddhism, this burial method is founded on the belief of reincarnation. Therefore, there is no need to preserve the human body after death, as it becomes an empty vessel as the spirit of the deceased leaves it. Sky burials, then, are burials where the body of the deceased is placed on a mountaintop to naturally decompose, being exposed to the natural elements or eaten by animals. Unfortunately, this type of burial is not necessarily possible for everyone. If you are interested, check out Keeper’s article on why you can’t have a Tibetan sky burial.
Another fascinating (and ancient!) burial tradition is suspended burials. This burial method involved suspending wood coffins on a cliffside, by placing the coffin on a plank held into the stone with wooden pegs. The stone was then painted with memorial images and messages. Practiced over five centuries ago by the Bo people of China’s Southwestern Gongxian county, suspended burials haven’t taken place in hundreds of years. However, remnants of this fascinating tradition still exist today! Sadly, the Bo people were completed wiped out before the Ming Dynasty, so it is difficult to know exactly why this burial method was used. However, it goes without saying that suspended burials will continue to amaze and mystify, with their beautiful and awe-inspiring designs!
While hillside cemeteries are not, themselves, uncommon, they certainly aren’t your average cemetery. With grave sites built into a hill’s slope, these kinds of cemeteries can get crowded very fast. An amazing example of such a cemetery is the collection of hillside cemeteries in Hong Kong, China. Hong Kong is a city with an enormous population (over 7 million in the urban area!) that all live together in a densely packed city. So, it’s no surprise that the cemeteries in this city are similarly crowded. Built right into the hilly environment of the city, these cemeteries are constructed in the form of large tiers, making the hills look like large staircases at a distance.
Mortuary Totem Poles
Mortuary totem poles are a rather rare example of an interesting burial method. Also called “mortuary poles”, these special totem poles were constructed with a compartment at the top to house the deceased’s body or ashes. These poles are incredibly tall, usually ranging from fifty to sixty feet high! The Haida and Tlingit Native American communities that made these poles would craft them for important figures in the community. They would often have a single figure carved at the top of the totem (usually the clan’s crest), as well as other carvings along the length of the pole. Most commonly made in the 19th century, these totems, while uncommon, are incredibly beautiful!
Space… the final frontier! We realize many of these unconventional burial methods (while amazing!) are not readily available for most of us. But have you ever heard of space burials? These burials consist of launching cremated remains into outer space! The ashes are not scattered loosely into space, so they don’t contribute to space debris. Rather, they are kept in a small spacecraft which will either re-enter the Earth’s atmosphere (and subsequently burn up), or continue on to a different planet. The first ever space burial was conducted in 1992, when the NASA space shuttle, Columbia, carried some of the remains of Gene Roddenberry (the creator the original Star Trek television series!) into space. Since then, they have been offered by a few different companies, such as Celestis, Inc., Elysium Space, and Ascending Memories.