For as long as humans have been around, there have been burial rites; even before we came on the scene, Neanderthals were practicing some form of intentional burial. The variation in burial rites and memorials is truly astounding; from a typical Christian inhumation to bonsai skulls to the Torajan practice of keeping the bodies of their loved ones fed and clothed like the living until they can be properly laid to rest.
This cannot happen until water buffalo are sacrificed at the funeral, as they facilitate transport to the afterlife for the deceased. The sacrifice can be delayed for months or even years, and some families even practice the ma’nene’ ceremony as a way of reconnecting with ancestors already laid to rest. This involves removing the deceased from their tombs every few years in order to clean them and provide them with new clothing, as well as clean their tombs. It is unknown when this practice began due to the lack of written records of the Torajan people, but their burial rites have been radiocarbon dated to at least the 9th century A.D. using coffin fragments.
Family caring for deceased relative as though still living
Bonsai skulls are a recent development from Australian artist Andrew Firth. The skulls are handmade using artificial flowers and various other plants for decoration. They come in several different styles, and each is made using a unique mould. Whether they are intended as merely an eye-catchingly unique and slightly morbid addition to one’s knick knacks, they serve as a powerful reminder of death and those who have gone before us.
Cherry blossom and graveyard skulls
In recent years cremation has become a burial rite which can only be described as an art form. Memorial diamonds, as they have come to be known, are a prime example of this artistic response to death. In order to create a memorial diamond, a few ounces of cremated remains are heated to over 5000 degrees Fahrenheit. Oxidation occurs in all elements apart from carbon. The heating process is continued until the carbon changes to graphite; this process takes several weeks. The graphite is then placed in a core with a metal catalyst and a diamond seed crystal. The core is placed in a diamond press, and further heat and pressure are applied to it for several weeks. This results in a rough diamond, which can then be cut into the desired shape.
The diamonds are most commonly set into rings or pendants. This service is offered by Cremation Solutions, who also offer glass cremation jewellery, with ashes incorporated into the interior of the glass pendants. Fingerprints of the deceased can also be incorporated into jewellery or portraits, or Life Trees can be planted in memory of the deceased. My family used a birch tree to mark a burial in the past, and it’s nice to see it grow and mark the life of a loved one. Cremation Solutions is certainly not the only company to offer tree burials; the innovative Bios urn will be discussed next.
The Bios urn is a completely biodegradable container, which was created to house cremated ashes, soil, and a seed. The contents of the urn are watered until the sapling grows, and it can be transplanted to the desired location. Eventually the sapling will become a fully-fledged tree, created from the remains of the deceased.
The Bios Incube is a similar yet more high tech design; the specialised urn contains soil, ashes and the seed of a tree chosen by those honouring the deceased. The urn adjusts itself to allow optimum water levels to facilitate plant growth, and monitors conditions such as humidity to create ideal growing conditions. There is also a smart phone app which allows one to monitor the urn throughout the day. The urn controls the size of the tree once it is grown and can sustain it for three weeks, at which point it will be transplanted.
Lastly, and my personal favourite, is Artful Ashes’ undoubtedly different memorial mediums. Using one tablespoon of ashes and glass blowing techniques, a dazzling blend of colour and ash is frozen in a visually striking orb or heart. Each piece even includes an inscribed message featuring the deceased’s name. Personally I find the orbs the most intriguing, as did a friend who was reminded of beads.
Glass-blown memorial orbs and hearts
Without doubt there has always a marvellous array of burial rites around the world, from burying ‘magicians’ in trees to the ever dependable coffin burials, and that continues to be true today. Whether one finds the study of burial rites disturbing and ‘creepy’, it reveals a startling amount of information about humankind, such as the status of the deceased and if these people believe in an afterlife, and studying burials will surely continue to help us understand the past and the present in a more meaningful way.
Bennett, A. (2016) When Death Doesn’t Mean Goodbye. Available at: http://www.nationalgeographic.com/magazine/2016/04/death-dying-grief-funeral-ceremony-corpse/
Bios (2017) Bios Incube. Available at: https://urnabios.com/
Bios (2017) Bios Urn. Available at: https://urnabios.com/urn/
Earthtables (2016) Bring The Dead Back To Life With Bonsai Skulls. Available at: http://www.earthables.com/bonsai-skulls-1528766517/
CanYouActually (2016) Forget Coffins! This Company Will Swirl You Into Beautiful Glass Creations When You Die. Available at: http://canyouactually.com/artful-ashes/
Cremation Solutions (2017) Cremation Diamonds. Available at: http://www.cremationsolutions.com/cremation-jewelry-for-ashes/cremation-diamonds-made-from-ashes