The long goodbye: Home burial can bring comfort



I never had any reason to think I’d have to plan my own child’s funeral. And yet, last July, that’s exactly what my husband and I found ourselves doing. Our unborn son, James, had just been diagnosed with trisomy 18, a terrible chromosomal disease, at 32 weeks of gestation. We’d read the grim statistics for this disease, the second-most common trisomy after Down syndrome (trisomy 21), and we knew that his time with us was likely to be short.

This awful news forced us to confront impossible questions: How did we want his brief life to look? How did we want him cared for after death? Instead of buying diapers and looking at cute baby boy clothes at Target, I was looking at cemeteries and trying to decide between cremation and burial. At 32 weeks pregnant in the miserable summer heat, I was writing a eulogy for my unborn child.

Catherine Ashe and her son, James

During this time, I came across a beautiful article written by a grieving mother whose adult daughter had died at home in hospice care after battling cancer. The writer cared for her daughter’s body, held an extended at-home visitation, and then buried her daughter at home. The article moved me to tears, because it captured perfectly how I feel about death.

In a society where death is largely relegated to hospitals, impersonal mortuaries and mass cemeteries, home burial has fallen by the wayside. Yet just a generation or two ago, death was recognized as a natural part of life. The deceased’s remains were handled by the family, and burial was done at home, in a family plot. Visitations often lasted for days. There was time for loved ones to say goodbye in a peaceful, familiar and welcoming environment.

After reading that article, I started researching North Carolina’s funeral and burial laws, and what I found surprised me. Home burial is permitted, as long as the interment is on private land, and just about anyone can transport the body. At no point does a funeral home have to be involved. The only specific regulations involve burial of a body too close to a reservoir or other public water source.

When James was born, he surprised everyone with his strength. He had five wonderful months with us. During his 154 days on earth, he was always with either me or his father. We cared for him through the good times and the bad. He was a fat, contented baby with big blue eyes and crazy brown hair.

On Jan. 2, 2017, he slipped out of this world, cradled in our loving arms. At that point, he was a patient in Mission’s pediatric intensive care unit. After his death, we held him, his grandparents and uncles held him, and his care team said goodbye to him. And then we simply walked out of the hospital, carrying James in our arms. We had cared for him in life; now we would care for him in death.

On Jan. 3, we hosted an extended visitation at our house. This was made possible by a CuddleCot — a cooling device that will preserve a small body for quite some time. It’s a noninvasive alternative to embalming. During my research, I’d also learned that embalming a body isn’t necessary: Cooling serves the same purpose.

Thanks to the CuddleCot, we were able to have James at home with us so we could say goodbye. Prior to his birth, I’d read about other parents doing the same thing — and at the time, much as I’m ashamed to say it, I thought it was morbid. Why would you want your child’s body in the house with you?

It wasn’t till James died that I understood: James was still James. Nothing changed when he died. He was still my baby. It seemed only natural to bring him home to the place he’d known his whole life, to give us time to adjust to losing him, to give his sisters (ages 3 and 5) time to see him, say goodbye and understand that he was gone.

His visitation was lovely, as lovely as something so tragic can be. My husband and I were in our own home, so we were comfortable, able to retreat into our bedroom when we needed to, and there was no established time frame limiting visits. We spent two nights with him, saying goodbye, telling him all the things we wanted him to hear.

On Jan. 4 at 4:52 p.m. — the same time of day he was born — we buried James in our backyard with over 100 people in attendance. His presence there, in the yard where his sisters play, brings us comfort on some very dark days: Though his spirit is gone, his earthly remains are nearby. We visit him often, keep fresh flowers on his grave and have wind chimes in the maple that he’s buried beneath.

I hope that by writing this, I can help others realize that home burial is possible for their loved ones — all of them, not just children.

Complete Article HERE!


Navigating the end of the road


Death doulas offer education, support to those seeking alternative options while dying or grieving

A screenshot of a video documenting a home funeral shows family members visiting their deceased loved on in a home setting. The video was produced by Lee Emmert and the University of Oregon’s School of Journalism and Communications Department.

By Courtney Vaughn

When both of her parents died six weeks apart, Nancy Ward had to confront death in a profound way.

She was lucky, sort of. Her parents had prearranged for their care after their deaths, but Ward recalls being uneasy with the post-mortem process when her father died of congestive heart failure.

“Up until this point, I had never seen a dead body because I was about as death-phobic as they come,” Ward says. “A man came into the room, he looked about 14, and unrolled a black plastic body bag on the gurney. I’m going, ‘Oh my God. This man was just living and breathing and now you’re gonna put him in a black plastic bag and do what?’ Put him out on the curb for waste management to pick up?”

Ward succinctly recalls the emotional sterility of the situation.

Nancy Ward

“This doesn’t feel right, this doesn’t feel good, it doesn’t feel loving, or respectful,” she thought to herself. “He doesn’t know my father. I know my father.”

Six weeks later, her mother died.

“I knew what was coming and didn’t like it, but I had nothing to replace it with,” Ward says.

Afterward, she became a death midwife, or “death doula” as some call it, availing herself to others so they didn’t have to go through the same process she did with her parents.

Ward is now used to confronting death. In fact, she and others have made a living out of it.

A few years ago, Ward and other colleagues in the death directives industry teamed up to form the End of Life Care Collaborative. Members help educate and guide people in their quest for home funerals and other self-directed death practices.

The group focuses on serving those who are dealing with the death of a loved one, or preparing for their own death.

Services range from home funeral preparation and arrangements, to help with navigating the traditional funeral process, to emotional and practical support for those delving into the end of their own lives, and a gamut of other services to serve those confronting death.

The ultimate goal, members say, is to help people achieve greater meaning, or a more comfortable process around dealing with death and accepting loss. To get there, clients must be willing to shake off some of the cultural stigma of death.

“As a society, we aren’t comfortable with dealing with death because it reminds us of our own mortality,” Ward says. “We think everybody should know what their options are and right now, they don’t. We’re trying to reach the people who want it done differently but don’t know what different looks like.”

Ward and the collaborative team help educate people on what their options are for preserving a loved one at home after they’ve died, or bringing the body of a loved one home if they choose.

Ward says most members of the collaborative try to operate on a sliding-scale fee system, to make sure no one is turned away because of finances.

“We all have different areas we like to focus on and that’s what makes the collaborative so important,” she says. “We can do everything from the totally esoteric to the toally practical.”

That means being a listener and helpful guide, or doing a load of laundry or providing a meal for a grieving household.

She points to a recent client she worked with- a woman dying of cancer- who wanted to be prepared when her final moments came, but more importantly, wanted to rely less on her family for her physical and emotional needs.

“She said, ‘my family is having a really hard time with this …I don’t want to burden them with my own questions and expressions, this is what I need you for,'” Ward recalls.

“Their psychological and emotional needs are unmet,” Ward says of many terminally ill patients. “My involvement is just simply working with the person on a psychological, spiritual, emotional level.”

Members of the collaborative are not isolated in their quest to provide resources and support for death directives, but their services aren’t widely available, or even widely culturally accepted.

Asher Wallis

“I have seen a good deal of anxiety arise from family members who are trying, in the midst of disorienting grief, to figure out what their loved ones, who had not planned logistically or financially for the events that would follow their death, would have wanted,'” Asher Wallis, an End of Life Care Collaborative member and grief counselor, explains.

He attributes some of the sources of that unnecessary stress to “culturally sanctioned misinformation about the physiological and psychological nature of dying such that both the family caregivers and the dying person think they are doing it wrong.”

Deborah Threadgill, a collaborative member who is also a certified funeral director, says the End of Life Care Collaborative focuses on making “everything family-directed,” meaning they never suggest or push services on clients. Rather, they try to educate them on their full range of options surrounding death and dying.

“We take something that is very, very traumatic in our society and taboo and make it something natural and beautiful,” she says.

Complete Article HERE!


The Life of a Death Midwife


Helping people through the dying process

By Claire Fordham

Olivia Bareham

Olivia Bareham wants to change people’s perception about death. “I want to break the taboo where we are excited about birth but dread death,” the death midwife said. “What if they were both explosive, incredible events?”

Part of a death midwife’s job is to sit with the dying at the end of their life. “To be able to bear witness to their dying process,” said Bareham. “The midwife is also looking beyond the last breath. We hold the space, not just for dying but for the funeral, burial or cremation rituals and even beyond that, to help the family and friends grieve.”

It’s hard to accept a terminal diagnosis.

“Some people can’t believe they are dying,” Bareham said. “It is unbelievable. It’s unbelievable that we’re even here. Once you play with the idea of the unbelievable-ness of everything, it’s not so unbelievable that you’re dying.”

Bareham believes a funeral or celebration of life service and properly grieving are important parts of the process.

“It’s declaring that the lost loved one counted and mattered and meant something to those left behind,” she said. “If you miss that, it’s sad, but perhaps it’s even more sad for the family and friends who have lost an opportunity to lean into their own mortality.”

Loved ones decorate a simple casket for a home funeral. Wooden caskets are also available. This cardboard one holds up to 200 lbs. weight.

Bareham has this advice for the living and dying: “Build a relationship with death. Befriend death. Be open to every little nuance of what it means to be alive — which includes pain, sorrow and loss — so you’re not thrown off by a catastrophe. Write your healthcare directive and death care directive because you never know when the end will come. And make peace with anyone with whom you have had conflict.”

All passings are different and not everyone gets a terminal diagnosis where they have time to plan their final moments. Having helped more than 200 people in and around Malibu as they die, or arranged their home funeral, Bareham has an idea how she’d like her own death to be.

Learning to lay a body in honor on a Death Midwife course. One of the attendees plays the body here.

“Some people want to be left alone at the moment of death. I wouldn’t mind having people in the room with me, but I wouldn’t want them touching me and close to the bed. Having a dear friend who totally gets me sitting vigil and holding the space is an anchoring that makes the dying feel safe.”

Just as there’s a popular movement toward natural childbirth, Bareham prefers the idea of a natural death. She isn’t saying don’t ever take morphine to help ease any pain, but suggests not taking so much that you aren’t aware of what’s going on. She may not want someone holding her hand or stroking her head at the end, “or telling me it’s OK to go,” she said, but is happy to do that for others, if that’s what they want.

For Bareham, a good death would be where she is aware of what is happening, where she is prepared and feels a sense of completion and fulfillment of the life lived — “so my dying is just another breath. I am ready and excited for what’s next.”

Bareham advises against waiting until you know you’re dying to forgive people who have hurt you or ask forgiveness of those you might have hurt. “It happens so quickly, and then you’re lost and scrambling. Try to stay in a state of consciousness that if death came, if a massive earthquake hit right now, you’d have a level of excitement,” she said.

People from all walks of life complete Bareham’s death midwifery course. “More young people in their 20s are doing it because they feel something is missing in our culture regarding death,” she described. “Some have been volunteering at a hospice, or are social workers. Others are intrigued with the idea that after the last breath, you can keep the body at home for three days and arrange a home funeral. Or they’ve had a horrible experience of death and are looking for healing.”

Bareham, who is fighting fit and looking forward to a long life, doesn’t find her career depressing.

“Death is just another chapter in life’s journey,” she said

Complete Article HERE!


Is there really life after death?


Brain activity is recorded 10 MINUTES after patient dies in an ‘unexplained’ case

Scientists from from the University of Western Ontario in Canada studied the extraordinary case of a patient continuing to release delta wave bursts after they were declared dead. We normally get these delta waves during a deep sleep

By Phoebe Weston

Life may continue even after death – just in sleep mode.

Doctors have found scientific evidence that people’s brains can continue to work after they are clinically dead.

A patient showed persistent brain activity for ten minutes after their heart stopped and experienced brain waves we normally get during deep sleep.

Doctors in a Canadian intensive care unit described the case as extraordinary and unexplained.

Researchers from the University of Western Ontario in Canada assessed electric impulses in the brain in relation to the beating of someone’s heart after life-sustaining therapy was removed.

Brain inactivity preceded the heart stopping in three of the four cases.

However, in one of the cases, the patient’s brain continued to work after their heart stopped.

‘In one patient, single delta wave bursts persisted following the cessation of both the cardiac rhythm and arterial blood pressure (ABP),’ the researchers said

There was significant differences in electrical activity in the brain between the 30-minute period before and the 5-minute period after the heart stopped.

‘It is difficult to posit a physiological basis for this EEG [brain] activity given that it occurs after a prolonged loss of circulation’, according to the paper which was published in the National Centre for Biotechnology Information.

Across the four patients recordings of their brain were very different – suggesting we all experience death in unique ways.

The experiment raises difficult questions about when someone is dead and therefore when it is medically and ethically correct to use them for organ donation.

As many as a fifth of people who survive cardiac arrests report having had an other-worldly experience while being ‘clinically’ dead.

However, scientists say it’s far too early to be talking about what this could mean for the post-death experience – especially considering it was only seen in one patient, according to Science Alert.

In 2013, a similar phenomenon was investigated on experiments on rats whose hearts had stopped.

In one of the cases, single delta wave bursts persisted after the heart had stopped and the patient was clinically dead. The experiment raises difficult questions about when someone is dead and therefore when it is medically and ethically correct to use them for organ donation

The research, which was published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences revealed rats had a burst of brain activity one minute after decapitation.

The pattern of activity was similar to that seen when the animals were fully conscious – except signals were up to eight times stronger.

The researchers said that the discovery that the brain is highly active in the seconds after the heart stops suggests that the phenomenon has a physical, rather than spiritual nature.

It has been argued that the dying brain is incapable of such complex activity and so near-death experiences must have their origins in the soul.

It suggests something happens at the brink of death that pushes the conscious brain to a high level of arousal, potentially triggering the visions and sensations associated with near-death experiences (NDEs).

As many as a fifth of people who survive cardiac arrests report having had an other-worldly experience while being ‘clinically’ dead.

Typically NDEs involve travelling through a tunnel towards an intense light, being separated from the body, encountering long-departed loved ones or angels and undergoing some kind of judgment of ‘life review.

Some emerge from NDEs as transformed individuals with a completely altered outlook on life, or a new belief in religion.

But many scientists believe near-death-experiences are nothing more than hallucinations induced by the effect of the brain shutting down.

Complete Article HERE!


More funeral homes offer green burials


Gloria and Reggie Weiss of Spring Township page through information about pre-arranging a green burial.

By Jeff McGaw

Reggie and Gloria Weiss love fat, vine-ripened tomatoes; healthy, homegrown asparagus; and good, wormy soil.

They prefer dirt-covered garden gloves to jewelry, mulch their food scraps, conserve water and are partial to a good natural fertilizer – especially, Gloria said, the kind goats make.With reverence for the environment, and appreciation for these simple things in life, the Weisses have made a decision to keep things simple in death.

The Spring Township couple have pre-arranged a green or natural burial.They are among a growing number of Americans who, out of what the National Funeral Directors Association calls “a deepening eco-consciousness,” have abandoned the modern American way of death in which the departed, nattily-clad and chemically preserved, are placed in expensive hardwood or shimmering steel coffins; lowered into one-ton reinforced concrete burial vaults; and, after the clods fall, are memorialized with massive granite or marble headstones.

More adults interested

Natural, or green, burials honor the rituals that are important to people, but without glitzy, synthetic trappings associated with modern funerals.

They are a way of caring for the dead with minimal environmental impact, according to the Green Burial Council based in Ojai, Calif.A 2015 study by the Funeral and Memorial Information Council showed 64 percent of adults 40 and older said they would be interested in green funeral options, compared with 43 percent in 2010.The funeral and burial industry is starting to take notice.Last summer, Gethsemane, a Catholic cemetery in Muhlenberg Township, became the first cemetery in Berks to offer a dedicated green burial section. That means no metal. No embalming fluid. No burial vault. No ashes.About an hour northeast of Reading, Green Meadow at Fountain Hill, in Salisbury Township, became Lehigh County’s first green cemetery when, in 2011, it dedicated a half acre of its 13 total acres to green burials.An hour west or Reading, Paxtang Cemetery in Paxtang Borough near Harrisburg reserved 12 of its 34 acres for green burials, and even had it zoned conservation to prevent future development.An hour southeast of Reading, West Laurel Hill Cemetery in Lower Merion Township was a regional pioneer in the green movement when it set aside an acre for green burials in 2008.

Earth-friendly caskets

Kuhn Funeral Home in West Reading, and Milkins Giles in Muhlenberg Township, stock caskets made of woven bamboo along with their traditional casket of steel and wood. Most funeral homes can easily attain and offer eco-friendly caskets to families, and families can purchase them directly from manufacturers.

Don Byrne, a native of Annville, Lebanon County, lives in Chatham, N.C., where he owns and operates Piedmont Pine Coffins. Using only non-power hand tools, Byrne makes each coffin with tongue-and-groove planks and dove-tail corners. Though his coffins are not used exclusively for green burials, he said the green movement has contributed to his workload.”They find that the simplicity of a pine matches something in the life or personality of their loved one,” Byrne said.His coffins, each requiring about 25 hours of labor, sell for about $1,800. Piedmont Pine Coffins is one of about 400 Green Burial Council-certified product makers, 399 more than existed in 2005.


Modern-day funeral and burial practices, which have their origins in the American Civil War, veered well away from the biblical notion of ashes to ashes and dust to dust.

Battlefield surgeons and others began embalming dead soldiers during the Civil War as a way to preserve the bodies during transport from battlegrounds to their homes hundreds of miles away. The practice was also useful in combating a gruesome phenomenon known as exploding casket syndrome, caused by a buildup of gases inside the coffin during decomposition. Some 40,000 Civil War soldiers were embalmed of the estimated nearly 650,000 who were killed.The funeral of Abraham Lincoln helped popularize the practice of embalming and set the tone for elaborate farewells, historians say.On April 19, 1865, four days after his death, Abraham Lincoln’s body began a 1,654-mile odyssey that took him from the White House and the Capitol in Washington to his final resting place in Springfield, Ill. The trip included stops in several towns and cities, including Harrisburg, Philadelphia, New York, Buffalo, Cleveland, Indianapolis and Chicago. At each major stop, the coffin was moved to a central viewing place and then opened so that mourners could pay their final respects.

Down with the dead

In addition to embalming chemicals, a lot of wood, steel and concrete goes down with the dead.

“For all its verdant landscaping, the typical cemetery functions less like a bucolic resting ground for the dead than a landfill for the materials that infuse and encase them,” wrote Bethlehem-based environmental journalist Mark Harris, author of a book called “Grave Matters” and a leading advocate of green burial practices.A one-acre section of cemetery, with about 1,250 people buried, will contain 3,750 gallons of formaldehyde-based preservative, 187,500 board feet of wood for coffins and 2.5 million pounds of concrete. If steel coffins are used, and they are used often, that would roughly equal 162,500 pounds of steel, more if heavier gauge steel is selected.There are 2,728 cemeteries in Pennsylvania. The Charles Evans Cemetery, one of the most historic cemeteries in Berks County, measures about 120 acres, and more than 70,000 people are interred there. Gethsemane Cemetery in Muhlenberg has about 70 acres, and 32,000 are buried there.Arlington National Cemetery, arguably the nation’s most revered cemetery, is 625 acres.The funeral industry is estimated to be worth $20 billion with about 2.4 million funerals held each year, according to Sara J. Marsden, editor-in-chief for U.S. Funerals Online.The National Funeral Directors Association published the median cost of an adult funeral, with viewing and a burial at $8,508 nationally. According to www.funeral.com, the cost of a traditional funeral, which includes basic fees, transfer of body, embalming or refrigeration, body preparation, viewing and visitation, graveside service and the casket or coffin, ranges from $7,000 to $10,000.”There’s a desire in many areas of our lives to lessen our impact on the globe,” said Jessica Koth of the National Funeral Directors Association.

‘A natural evolution’

“There are electric cars, organic and locally grown food and recycling,” she said. “Green burials are sort of the natural evolution of our lives becoming green.”

In a green burial, the body is shrouded in natural fiber. Caskets, if they are used at all, are made of everything from simple pine to woven bamboo or wicker, sea grass, wool or cardboard. The dead are typically lowered by hand into a grave, where the forces of nature are allowed to exert themselves without obstruction from chemicals, unnatural fibers or man-made barriers of concrete, plastic or steel.The Green Burial Council certifies funeral homes, cemeteries and funeral products as green based on various eco-friendly practices. To be certified, for example, funeral homes must offer three types of biodegradable caskets made from material that is easily harvested and quickly regrown. Cemeteries must disallow burial of embalmed bodies, concrete and metal in their green areas. Coffin makers, among others, must get raw material harvested in responsible ways, to name just a few of the requirements.The Weisses said they aren’t out to make a statement or to prove a point, but given their green lifestyle, a green burial seems appropriate.Working with Kuhn Funeral Home on their plans, they chose simple, wooden caskets similar to those used in Jewish burials.”I don’t need all that contrivance,” Gloria said. “I don’t need all that fancy stuff. But some people do, and that’s fine.”

Back to the future

Green or natural burials are nothing new.

“This isn’t a trend,” said Jim Olsen, a spokesman for the National Funeral Directors Association. “This is what (society) has always done.”Timothy Kolasa, executive director of Gethsemane Cemetery, agrees: “It’s just really getting back to basics.””Some people are looking for a more simplified option,” he said. “Cremation has been that option for many years.”Kolasa added that the cemetery had been considering the move since 2012. No plots have yet been filled, but some have been pre-arranged.Paxtang Cemetery near Harrisburg opened in August, 2014, according to owner Alesia Skinner. An ardent supporter of the environment and green burials, Skinner opened The Woods Edge.Sylvia Crum, Skinner’s mom, loved the idea.”She was a country girl at heart,” Skinner said of her mom. “She came from a farm, and it was one of her happiest places. She was a very whole-earthy kind of a person. She loved nature.”Crum died of pancreatic cancer in August 2014 and became the first person to be buried at The Woods Edge.Tragically, Patrick B. Ytsma, 53, of Bethlehem, an avid bicyclist and architect, was struck by a car and killed while biking. He became the first person interred at Green Meadow in Salisbury Township. Friends, many of whom rode their bikes to his funeral on Dec. 10, 2011, said he would have wanted it that way.

Gravesite charges

Green burials can cost between $1,000 to $4,000, depending on the cemetery, according to CostHelper Inc., a Silicon Valley, Calif.-based provider of consumer information.

The Ramsey Creek Preserve in South Carolina, considered by some as the epicenter of green burials in the U.S., charges $2,500 to $3,500 for a gravesite.Natural burial plots at Gethsemane are larger, measuring 5 feet by 10 feet, than normal plots, and slightly more expensive, Kolasa said. “A cemetery’s only asset is land,” he said.Plots at Gethsemane range usually between $500 and $2,500, depending on location. The Weisses chose their little section of eternity near a hilltop and away from the car path.Casket costs can vary. A company called Final Footprint sells green caskets made with materials such as banana leaf, rattan, sea grass, wood and organic fibers for less than $1,000. They are made in the U.S., Poland and Indonesia, and are certified as fair trade. For $4.95, Piedmont Pine Coffins will sell you plans so you can build your own coffin with material that will cost you less than $200.

Movement inches along

Despite its passionate disciples, the movement is inching along in Berks County.

Green burials “will certainly gain in popularity down the road,” said Kyle Blankenbiller, funeral director and manager of Auman Funeral Homes, with two locations in the Reading area.”There’s not a real need right now,” said Joseph D. Giles of Milkins Giles Funeral Home in Muhlenberg Township. “I have no idea what it will look like in the future,” he said.But Olsen, a longtime funeral director from Sheboygan, Wis., who speaks nationally on behalf of the National Funeral Directors Association, said there might be a very good reason for funeral directors to get on board.Soaring cremation rates are burning up profits as families who cremate tend to buy fewer services from funeral homes.”I’ve lowered my cremation rate by offering this,” Olsen said. “I’ve found that by sitting down and listening to the families I serve I’ve actually captured a new portion of business.”Harris believes the pendulum is swinging back toward natural burial faster than some might admit.”This boomer generation is leaning green,” he said. “It’s the greening of society. They launched the first Earth Day, and now the leading edge of the boomer generation is slouching into retirement. They will bring those same green values to bear on end-of-life decisions.”Millennials, he added, are “definitely going green.”And while environmentalists aren’t exactly beating down his doors, Michael Kuhn, who worked with the Weisses, said, “It’s very appealing to some people.”Searching for the right words to describe the trend, Kuhn unwittingly stumbled into what might be the best description of all: “It’s kind of a grass roots movement.”

Complete Article HERE!


Ancient Americans Mutilated Corpses in Funeral Rituals


By Tia Ghose

A skull exhumed from the Lapa do Santo cave in Brazil shows evidence of modification such as tooth removal. Hundreds of remains from the site show that beginning around 10,000 years ago, ancient inhabitants used an elaborate set of rituals surrounding death.

A skull exhumed from the Lapa do Santo cave in Brazil shows evidence of modification such as tooth removal. Hundreds of remains from the site show that beginning around 10,000 years ago, ancient inhabitants used an elaborate set of rituals surrounding death.

Ancient people ripped out teeth, stuffed broken bones into human skulls and de-fleshed corpses as part of elaborate funeral rituals in South America, an archaeological discovery has revealed.

The site of Lapa do Santo in Brazil holds a trove of human remains that were modified elaborately by the earliest inhabitants of the continent starting around 10,000 years ago, the new study shows. The finds change the picture of this culture’s sophistication, said study author André Strauss, a researcher at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany.

“In reconstructing the life of past populations, human burials are highly informative of symbolic and ritual behavior,” Strauss said in a statement. “In this frame, the funerary record presented in this study highlights that the human groups inhabiting east South America at 10,000 years ago were more diverse and sophisticated than previously thought.” [See Images of the Mutilated Skeletons at Lapa do Santo]

The site of Lapa do Santo, a cave nestled deep in the rainforest of central-eastern Brazil, shows evidence of human occupation dating back almost 12,000 years. Archaeologists have found a trove of human remains, tools, leftovers from past meals and even etchings of a horny man with a giant phallus in the 14,000-square-foot (1,300 square meters) cave. The huge limestone cavern is also in the same region where archaeologists discovered Luzia, one of the oldest known human skeletons from the New World, Live Science previously reported.

In the 19th century, naturalist Peter Lund first set foot in the region, which harbors some of the oldest skeletons in South America. But although archaeologists have stumbled upon hundreds of skeletons since then, few had noticed one strange feature: Many of the bodies had been modified after death.

In their recent archaeological excavations, Strauss and his colleagues took a more careful look at some of the remains found at Lapa do Santo. They found that starting between 10,600 and 10,400 years ago, the ancient inhabitants of the region buried their dead as complete skeletons.

But 1,000 years later (between about 9,600 and 9,400 years ago), people began dismembering, mutilating and de-fleshing fresh corpses before burying them. The teeth from the skulls were pulled out systematically. Some bones showed evidence of having been burned or cannibalized before being placed inside another skull, the researchers reported in the December issue of the journal Antiquity.

“The strong emphasis on the reduction of fresh corpses explains why these fascinating mortuary practices were not recognized during almost two centuries of research in the region,” Strauss said.

The team has not uncovered any other forms of memorial, such as gravestones or grave goods. Instead, the researchers said, it seems that this strict process of dismemberment and corpse mutilation was one of the central rituals used by these ancient people in commemorating the dead.

Complete Article HERE!


What happens when you die?


EVER wondered what happens after we die? Here’s everything you need to know, from what happens to our bodies to if there’s life after death.

By Reiss Smith

Scientists have worked out how our bodies decompose after we die

Scientists have worked out how our bodies decompose after we die

What happens to your body after you die?

Medically speaking, death happens in two stages. The first, clinical death, lasts for four to six minutes from the moment a person stops breathing and the heart stops pumping blood.

During this stage, organs remain alive and there may be enough oxygen in the brain that no permanent damage occurs.

The second stage of dying, biological death, is the process by which the body’s organs shut down and cells begin to degenerate.

Doctors are often able to halt this process by cooling the body below its normal temperature, allowing them to revive patients before brain damage sets in.After 12 hours, skin loses its colour and blood pools at the lowest point of the body, causing red and purple bruising.

Before this, rigor mortis sets in, making the body stiff and rigid. This is caused by calcium leaking into the muscle cells, which binds to protein and causes them to contract.

Unless the body is embalmed, it will start decomposing as soon as blood stops flowing.

A process called putrefaction happens after bacteria in the gastrointestinal tract eats through the abdominal organs, releasing horrid smells which attract insects.

Maggots laid by blowflies eat the rotting body tissue and can consume 60 per cent of the body’s tissue in a few weeks.

The remaining parts are then eaten by plants, insects and animals, which can take a year or more depending on how the body has been buried.


What happens to thoughts after you die?

Scientists have conducted much research into what happens to consciousness after death.

Reddit user r00tdude wrote: “It was just black emptiness. No thoughts, no consciousness, nothing.

Is there life after death? What do Christians, Muslims and other religions believe?

Without any scientific evidence of an afterlife, many religions offer their own explanation as to what happens after death.

Christians believe that after dying, spirits are sent to heaven or hell depending on their Earthly behaviour.

Depending on which strand of the religion you ask, sinners are sent to hell either for eternity or until they have repented their actions. Those who have lived their lives according to Christian principles will be sent to heaven.

Catholics believe in the idea of purgatory, a place between heaven and hell where sinners first go to repent for their wrong-doings.

Bodies decompose quickly unless they are embalmed

Bodies decompose quickly unless they are embalmed

The Islamic faith teaches that Allah will raise the dead on “The Last Day” – a date known only to him. On this day, he will judge all souls and send them to either paradise or hell.

Muslims believe that until then, the dead remain in their graves, where they will be sent visions of their fate.

According to Buddhists, spirits are reincarnated into new bodies until they achieve enlightenment. Upon doing so, they will exit the mortal coil and reach Nirvana – an “incomprehensible, indescribable, inconceivable and unutterable” place.

Many religions believe in the idea of an afterlife

Many religions believe in the idea of an afterlife

Unlike most religions, the concept of an afterlife isn’t central to Judaism, instead it focuses on actions made in life.

There are some mentions of an afterlife in the religion, but not one divided into heaven and hell.

The Torah talks of an afterlife called Sheol – a shadowy place down in the centre of the Earth, where all souls go to without judgement.

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