And To Dust Thou Shall Return..

I have always marveled at the ancient Egyptians’ view of death, how they attempted to preserve bodies of departed loved ones and stored them inside gigantic pyramids filed with treasures, food and in some cases hordes of living slaves to guard them in the afterlife. My fascination took me to the land of the pharaohs many years ago where I was momentarily taken back in time as I stood in the lonely desert gazing at the elegant and imposing structures which hold the remains of the majestic and enigmatic pharaohs, once upon a time regarded as the most powerful rulers of the ancient world. I had the chance to see the unearthed golden coffins of pharaohs along with the adorning jewelry displayed at the Egyptian museum. The stunning treasures were showcased at a special section of the museum, a large room with a small unit of AK-47 toting soldiers watching visitors forming a single file pass by to get a glimpse of the treasures. The guards watched every visitor with intensity. No one was to neither pause nor stop to admire in awe nor peruse the treasures that lay beneath the glass boxes. Taking pictures was totally forbidden.

On the other side of the museum lay the mummies ripped open and exposed for the public to view, encased in glass. Come to think of it, if these bodies were of the royalty, how come no guards were watching over them? The people were flocking in the other side of the floor scrambling to get a view of the jewels, the golden sarcophagus and the precious stones guarded by heavily armed guards. Such is the reality of death. The things that once adorned us will be worth more than us. It is tragic to think that our strength, the power we once wielded, our beauty and admirable intelligence will become worthless as our body reaches the end of its journey and transforms itself to dust to rejoin the bosom of mother earth to complete the cycle of life. Some of us think that physical death is a beginning of another life but that is another topic of interesting discussion.

I came across this article on the net – 20 things you didn’t know about death and found it quite interesting, particularly the issue of our bodies becoming pollutants to the environment. Embalmed bodies dumping formaldehyde into the soil, cremation polluting the atmosphere hence the notion of “ecological burial”, cows treated with antibiotics killing vultures that feed on their rotting bodies. Finally, how about a space burial ? I am no pantheist by any stretch of the imagination but I think mother earth has way too much free space to accommodate our ashes and I am not worried about pollution in this context. Aren’t some people just over reacting?

More people dying of suicide in New York City than those murdered is a shocking stat. I’m still skeptical but if this were true, might this be the result of too many people living alone by themselves with no families or relatives to count on that stress finally declares total victory over their lives?

Here’s the list :

1 The practice of burying the dead may date back 350,000 years, as evidenced by a 45-foot-deep pit in Atapuerca, Spain, filled with the fossils of 27 hominids of the species Homo heidelbergensis, a possible ancestor of Neanderthals and modern humans.

2 Never say die: There are at least 200 euphemisms for death, including “to be in Abraham’s bosom,” “just add maggots,” and “sleep with the Tribbles” (a Star Trek favorite).

3 No American has died of old age since 1951.

4 That was the year the government eliminated that classification on death certificates.

5 The trigger of death, in all cases, is lack of oxygen. Its decline may prompt muscle spasms, or the “agonal phase,” from the Greek word agon, or contest.

6 Within three days of death, the enzymes that once digested your dinner begin to eat you. Ruptured cells become food for living bacteria in the gut, which release enough noxious gas to bloat the body and force the eyes to bulge outward.

7 So much for recycling: Burials in America deposit 827,060 gallons of embalming fluid—formaldehyde, methanol, and ethanol—into the soil each year. Cremation pumps dioxins, hydrochloric acid, sulfur dioxide, and carbon dioxide into the air.

8 Alternatively . . . A Swedish company, Promessa, will freeze-dry your body in liquid nitrogen, pulverize it with high-frequency vibrations, and seal the resulting powder in a cornstarch coffin. They claim this “ecological burial” will decompose in 6 to 12 months.

9 Zoroastrians in India leave out the bodies of the dead to be consumed by vultures.

10 The vultures are now dying off after eating cattle carcasses dosed with diclofenac, an anti-inflammatory used to relieve fever in livestock.

11 Queen Victoria insisted on being buried with the bathrobe of her long-dead husband, Prince Albert, and a plaster cast of his hand.

12 If this doesn’t work, we’re trying in vitro! In Madagascar, families dig up the bones of dead relatives and parade them around the village in a ceremony called famadihana. The remains are then wrapped in a new shroud and reburied. The old shroud is given to a newly married, childless couple to cover the connubial bed.

13(*) During a railway expansion in Egypt in the 19th century, construction companies unearthed so many mummies that they used them as fuel for locomotives.

14 Well, yeah, there’s a slight chance this could backfire: English philosopher Francis Bacon, a founder of the scientific method, died in 1626 of pneumonia after stuffing a chicken with snow to see if cold would preserve it.

15 For organs to form during embryonic development, some cells must commit suicide. Without such programmed cell death, we would all be born with webbed feet, like ducks.

16 Waiting to exhale: In 1907 a Massachusetts doctor conducted an experiment with a specially designed deathbed and reported that the human body lost 21 grams upon dying. This has been widely held as fact ever since. It’s not.

17 Buried alive: In 19th-century Europe there was so much anecdotal evidence that living people were mistakenly declared dead that cadavers were laid out in “hospitals for the dead” while attendants awaited signs of putrefaction.

18 Eighty percent of people in the United States die in a hospital.

19 If you can’t make it here . . . More people commit suicide in New York City than are murdered.

20 It is estimated that 100 billion people have died since humans began.

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19 Responses

  1. Over reaction. We don’t bury animals and their numbers are more than humans. They just decompose and no one gives a damn.

  2. I’ve read about ‘green burial’ I’m not sure if it is the same as ‘ecological’ burial you’ve mentioned. There was an article about it in New York Times sometime July. That instead of tombstone(am not sure if this is the right word), people are asked to plant trees on top of the mound.

    I watched NatGeo’s previous shows on how ancient Egyptians bury their dead. For Pharaohs, the recent in years is that of King Tut and there were all tests done on how and why he died.

    It’s fascinating how different cultures regard death and their dead.

  3. Irrealis – when you mean that we are designed to rot on the ground just like animals you’ve a point pal.

  4. Ipanema – it attached the list to the post because the URL wasn’t hitting the right page.

    Yes, I saw a similar TV show where scientists placed the dried mummy in some solution to soften the tissues and they were able to analyze the cause of death of the body. They were even able to analyze the food the mummy likely ate before death.

    I think time will come when humans who die of illness can be frozen and preseved to be resurrected when a cure is found. May not happen in my lifetime but certainly not an impossibility.

  5. i love to see a real pyramid and a mummy. heheeh.

    nice burial/death fyi’s.

    i remember when i went to iloilo, there’s a protest there about cremation coz it’s bad for the ozone layer daw

  6. More people commit suicide in New York City than are murdered.

    Either NY is a very peaceful city or it has many depressed people. This is an interesting fact. A good topic for a new post, eh?

  7. Tin – it would be nice if you had the chance to see them. As for the mummies, I think they go around the world! There was a mummy displayed at the Royal Ontario Museum.

    The pyramids are an enigma. First of all there’s pyramid power – things seem to get preserved well when kept in a pyramid structure. Even pyramid cardboards can store food a little longer. The ones in Giza, Egypt are huge – some more than 10 storeys high. I’ve entered one, actually almost crept for a little than 150 ft to get into a tomb chamber. inside.

  8. Abaniko – it’s does sound odd when NYC is supposed to be a very cosmopolitan, trendy city. I guess it’s just the brash, cocky attitude of New Yorkers that seems to elicit the feeling that they are unfriendly, or perhaps its the lack of family and societal bonding that drive people to give up easily. Unlike Pinoys, we have a huge network of extended family to fall back to when we encounter financial and emotional problems.

  9. Amazing facts!

  10. thanks Sidney.

  11. Grim, but interesting facts. I didn’t know that cremation could pollute the air. I’ve heard about how we lose 21 grams when dying, from the movie “21 Grams.”

  12. Burrying the dead as quick as possible, they way the Muslin religion does is the least pollutant of all options. no embalming, the body will docompose as natural as possible.

    As regarding suicides, Canada has one among the highest rate of suicides, especially our youths and our natives. latest staticstics shows tha 15 out of every 100,000 thousands, at our latest count of 32 millions it’s about 4800 successful average anually. It’s a national concern.

  13. Niceheart – grim indeed and most people would rather not talk about it but we must face facts head on I guess. never heard of the movie “21 grams” and that’s very interesting. Some suspect that the 21 grams is the result of the soul leaving the body…

  14. Vic – true in fact Muslims clean their own dead at the mosque. If the dead person is a man, sons and brothers and in some cases relatives and friends clean the body with water and oil and wrap it in a burial shroud for immediate burial. If its a woman, female family members do the celaning. I happen to believe that this probably the best way of expressing love for a departed one – more personal, loving and the the experience brings about a reality check of our mortality and the inevitability of death. I think the more we accept and understand death, we can live our lives much better without the unwarranted worries and fear.

    The native suicide rate is a great concern. One of the reasons is the high incidence of acohol and drug abuse esp inside the reservations.

  15. Hmmm, cremation contributing to air pollution? A decomposing human flesh can produce more deadly bacteria than the ashes of a cremated flesh.

  16. It’s a nice and very informative posts about that ultimately enigmatic subject matter such as “death”. It is just perhaps the one singular mystery that continually interests us since there’s just no knowing what is out there, after one’s last breath. Not even the brightest of scientist could offer a reasonably fair answer. But despite of this, I had always believe in a reality after death and perhaps man by nature have this sort of inkling that even in the ancient times, men have longed for life after death.

  17. Very informative post, BW. Thanks for sharing. There was a book that came out a few years back that was rather interesting – “How We Die.”

  18. Sngl – when Great Lakes salmon return from the lake to the rivers and tributaries where they were born to spawn, their bodies turn black, sort of an indication that their biological clocks are soon to cease functioning. After spawning, their bodies begin to atrophy and die ultimately. Their decomposing bodies litter in the river bed to gradually feed all other animals and living organisms.. Considering that toxins have been found on salmon from the Great Lakes, they are not entirely exempt from chemical pollution just as man is. The salmon spawning phenomenon is a re-enactment of the cycle of life. Why spawn and die? Some say that salmon simply fulfill their mission in life – the procreation of their specie and when they have done it, it’s time to go – mission accomplished.

  19. Major Tom – puzzling indeed and the thought of the possibility of coming back from clinical death – whatever happened to the soul? Cyrogenic freezing which the long term freezing of human body at extremely low temperatures opens the possibility of resurrecting dead bodies from clinical death. People who die of illness can be frozen over a long period of time and resurrected in the future when a cure is found. This is a futuristic concept but I am not surprised if it happens , probably not in my lifetime

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