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Dust and ashes

Staff Writer

Published: Saturday, October 9, 2010

Updated: Saturday, October 9, 2010 00:10


Birth, life, death-that’s pretty much how the cycle goes. It’s not a secret that everyone who is living will one day die. However, the method of how to dispose of a body once its owner has passed on, has been a changing concept since the beginning of time.

The ancient Egyptians are famous for embalming, also known as mummifying, their dead and burying the bodies in the ground. If the deceased were members of the nobility, their bodies were placed in sepulchers (like the pyramids) along with great amounts of wealth and sometimes their servants, for use in the Afterlife. The Greeks would put a coin in the mouths of their dead before burial in order to pay for their passage over the mythical River Styx. 

Before it was outlawed by the British in 1829, Hindus in India practiced suttee, or wife burning. The wife of the deceased would dress herself in her finest clothing, lie down beside her dead husband on his funeral pyre, and the eldest son would light the pyre-burning the wife alive, along with the body of her husband.

Some countries, such as Tibet, have been known for using the Sky Burial method for disposing of their dead. They would leave the deceased’s body on high ground for birds of prey to finish off. Some religions view such birds as the transporters of souls to heaven.

Some communities near the ocean bury their dead at sea, and other villages in the mountains have a tradition of leaving the coffins of their dead suspended in trees. 

In recent years, people have come up with more creative methods for their remains once they’ve passed on. Cryopreservation, or Cryogenic freezing, for instance, is the process for storing dead bodies at liquid nitrogen temperatures, in the hopes that future breakthroughs in technology will make it possible to bring the deceased back to life. Ted Williams, a Major League baseball player for the Boston Red Sox from 1939-60, had this procedure done when he passed away in 2002, and he’s still frozen today.

Japan and some European countries, like Germany, have begun to run out of available land space to bury their dead, they’ve had to resort to alternative means of dealing with the overabundance of bodies. Some places have begun stacking coffins in the ground like a high-rise hotel, and others have begun forcing people to lease the plot of ground where they will one day be buried. 

For those who aren’t opposed to cremation, here are some interesting ideas on what to do with your ashes after you’re gone:

1. Become a record. A company based in Great Britain called And Vinyly is now offering to press people’s ashes into a vinyl recording of their own voice, favorite song, or their last will and testament.

2. Load yourself into some bullets. Joanna Booth had her husband James’ ashes crammed into 275 12-gauge shotgun cartridges after he died. She then had them blessed by a minister of the Church of Scotland, and she and 20 of her friends spent the day at an estate in Aberdeenshire, Scotland, shooting every non-human creature they could find.

3. Be a fireworks display. The California-based company, Angel’s Flight, offers the chance to have the deceased’s ashes mixed in with the combustible powder of fireworks. People have the option of choosing an accompanying song and message of their choice to be spelled out in the fireworks explosion.

4. Get turned into a pencil. Nadine Jarvis, an English product designer, came up with the idea to turn peoples’ cremated remains into pencils. The average human body can make 240 of them, and the box included with the pencils even has a built-in sharpener.

5. Become a diamond. Diamonds are made from compressed carbon. What luck!-Human ashes have carbon in them. Thanks to the scientists at the Illinois-based company, LifeGem, you or your loved one’s ashes could be turned into a synthetic diamond in about 6 to 9 months! Supposedly, LifeGem was able to obtain some of Ludwig van Beethoven’s remains, and they created a diamond that was valued at around $1,000,000. 

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