"DEATH TO DUST"


1.  What happens to bodies exposed to the environment ?
2. Will the "worms crawl in" ?
3. Do other animals eat corpes ?
4. How long does it take for an exposed body to turn to dust ?
5. Will embalming prevent decay ?
6. May I be buried at sea ?
7. What happens to a body interred in water ?
8. Are bodies buried at sea eaten by fish ?
9. Must a boat be used for a water burial ?
10. Why do dead bodies float ?
11. What will happen to bodies adrift in space ?
 

1. What happens to bodies exposed to the environment ?

    Exposed bodies normally decompose, although researchers are only now learning how this occurs. Since 1980, the Anthropology Research Facility of the University of Tennessee has been studying the natural decay process using the bodies of homicide victims, bodies donated to science and unidentified bodies. Researchers discovered that bodies actually decompose at different rates, depending upon multiple factors ( Table 1 ). They also have found that bodies go through four stages after death : fresh, bloating, decay, and dry - that vary depending upon various environmental factors.

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TABLE 1 : VARIABLES AFFECTING DECAY RATE OF THE HUMAN BODY

        Variable                                Effect on decay rate*

        Temperature                                5
        Access by insects                          5
        Burial and depth                           5
        Carnivore/rodent access                    4
        Trauma (penetrating/crushing)              4
        Humidity/aridity                           4
        Rainfall                                   3
        Body size and weight                       3
        Prior embalming                            3
        Clothing                                   2
        Surface body rests on                      1

* Subjective criteria, with "5" the most influential factor
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    Although the studies may appear goulish, they have given forensic pathologists a baseline from which to determine the time and nature of death when bodies are found. Quincy would have been lost without this information.

    Temperature and access to the body by carrion insects and carnivores have the greatest effect on a body's decay rate. Warm temperatures accelerate decomposition and freezing temperatures drastically slow the process, primarily by promoting or reducing activity by scavengers.

    In warm to hot water, a body completely exposed to the elements takes only two to four weeks to be reduced to a skeleton. Carrion insects and carnivorous animals, stimulated by warm weather, play a large role in this destruction. Anything that protects a body from these invaders slows down the decomposition.

    Burying a body or even wrapping it in a plastic covering and leaving it on the ground will protect it from carrion insects and carnivores. Shallow burial are also protective, but much less so than deeper burials. When buried at depths of 1 or 2 feet ( 0.3 or 0.6 meter ) bodies may be reduced to skeletons in a few months to a year, while those buried only slightly deeper, at 3 or 4 feet ( 0.9 or 1.2 meter ) may take many years to skeletonize. It appears that the speed with which a corpse will decompose primarily depends on how many and what types of critters are abble to get to the body.

    Warm temperatures also hasten decomposition by the body's natural enzymes. Enzymes ( chemical catalyst ) are found in many of the bodies cells, and in digestive juices that help break down food while the body is alive. In warm bodies, these enzymes continue to work after death, destroying tissues in a process called autolysis. When a person dies from an illness with a high fever, this process accelerates and the stomach or lower esophagus can perforate within a few hours after death, spreading enzymes and digestive juices throughout the abdomen.

    Conversely, cold water slows decomposition, primarily by slowing the activity of carnivorous insects. While insects, especially flies and their maggots, normally ravage an exposed corpse, cold temperatures slow or stop this carnage. Below about 45F/5C, flies are not very active and are less likely to visit a body and lay eggs. Below freezing, any fly eggs and all maggot outside of the corpse die. If eggs have been deposited within the body, however, the maggots will give off enough heat to survive and will continue to feed even in freezing weather. They produce so much heat, in fact, that when a pathologist opens a portion of a frozen corpse where maggots are feeding, steam vapors rise from the body. The larger carnivores, such as bird and mammals, also are slowed by cold weather.

    Cold weather also slows or stops the other mechanisms through which bodies decompose. Extreme cold inactivates the body's enzymatic breakdown ( autolysis ) and slows bacterial activity ( putrefaction ). Corpses in freezing conditions may therefore, not decay. However, their skin changes from its natural color to orange or black, usually embellished with patches of mold.

    "Iceman" is an extreme example of low temperatures halting decomposition. "Iceman" is the body of a Stone Age hunter discovered by a tourist in september 1991 on the Similaun glacier on the Italian-Austrian border. This 30-year-old mountaineer met his demise by falling into a crevasse 5300 years ago, or more then 3 millenia before Christ was born ! Not only was his body preserved, including the elaborated tatto on his back and knees, but so were his leather clothes, an arrow quiver, 14 arrows and a copper axe.

    Fresh-frozen corpes are still being accidently produced, even in the heart of our modern society. In 1992, an 84-year-old Swedish society woman died while sitting on her balcony in the Stockholm suburb. After she sat there for two months, her neighbors decided that something was wrong when she didn't go inside, even during blizzards. Authorities speculate that she died on New Year's Eve while watching the city's fireworks. They found her body to be very well preserved in that extremely cold climate. < TOP >
 

2. Will the "worms crawl in" ?

    In bodies left unprotected from the elements, "worms" will indeed make their grand appearance and help nature return them to dust.  The "wormw" however, are normally maggots, and rather than "crawling in", they arrive airmail. Forensic enthomologists now use insect evidence to determine the time of death and help identify murderers.

    Maggots were once thought to be a type of worm, and many writers throughout the ages commented on the effect of "worms" on the corpse. Shakespeare, among others, described man simply as "worms' meat". Edgar Allan Poe epitomized the gruesomeness of a moldering corpse by writing of the dreadfull "Conqueror worm" in Ligeia :

                But see, amid the mimc rout,
                    A crawling shape intrude !
                A blood-red thing that writhes from out
                    The scenic solitude

                It writhes ! - It writhes ! - with mortal pangs
                    The mimes become its food
                And the seraph sob at vermin fangs
                    In human gore imbued

    Insects, however, do not just happen upon a corpse, but appear to be attracted by a "universal death scent". What causes this scent has yet to be determined, but it seems to powerfully summon the insect population which can recognize microscopic quantities of odor-producing chemicals. Although people cannot detect the odor from a newly-dead body, flies, especially fleshflies (Sarcophagidae) and blowflies (Calliphoridae), swarn to the odor from as far away as two miles. In wooded area, especially where there have previously been dead animals or humans, they begin to land on a corpse within seconds, and within on hour some species may produce maggots. Even in area without prior bodies, they land on exposed corpses within the first few hours (wrapping or burning a body delays this). In the open air, those flies quickly lay thousands of eggs in a body's mouth, nose and ears. If the body has suffered a penetrating or crushing injury (e.g. gunshot wound), a large number of flies land on the wound area, causing the body to decompose faster than normal. When they are finished feeding, they leave the body, only to be replaced by beetles who come to feed on the drying skin. Beetles are subsequently replaced by spiders, mites and millipedes which feed on the insect already there or on the body itself. Catts and Goff describe four roles for arthropods around a corpse :

        1. Necrophages : the species feeding on corpse tissue (often Diptera and Coleoptera)
        2. Omnivores : species that feed on both the corpse and associated fauna (ants, wasps and some beetles)
        3. Parasites and predators : species that feed on both the corpse and other arthropods. Some species are
               parasites in the early larval stage and become predacceous later
        4. Incidentals : species that use the corpse to extend their normal habital, such as spider, centipedes,
               pill bugs, and some mites.

    Not only do insects swarm over an exposed corpse in great numbers, but they also arrive in a very precise sequence depending upon the body's location and condition. This has given rise to a new field, forensic entomology. Since the exact feeding pattern varies with a body's location, the time of death, and the climate, forensic entomologists are often able to determine the date of death very accurately-even a decade later.

    On several occasions criminals have been convicted after committing a "perfect crime" just because of some dead insects.

    The first recorded episode of insects revealing a killer occured in thirteenth-century China, where an individual had been slashed to death in a rural village. When no one confessed, authorities ordered all of the villagers to lay down their sickles. The murderer was identified when flies swarmed to only his sickle, an apparently clean implement that still retained small traces of the victim's flesh and blood. Insects were also used to identify the killer in England's famous Lydney murder trial, when the time of death, as determined from insect evidence, invalidated the killer's alibi.

    More recently, insect evidence helped Tacoma, Washington polica track down the killer of a man found dead from a gunshot wound in a room completely sealed from the inside. Entomological investigators found two generations of maggots in the body, allowing then to determine that the death had occured a little more than three weeks before the body was found. (Depending on local factors, it generally takes one generation about three weeks to reach adulthood). by dating the death, police were able to discover that a man had fired a gun during a party at a nearby house, and had accidentaly killed the victim.

    Police in Wisconsin and Hawaii have also used insect evidence to place suspects with victimes at the time of death, and one murderer was convicted when his story about coming home to find his girlfriend dead and the windows open did not match the insect evidence. The body was not infested with insects as it would have been if the windows had really been open since her death. In another "perfect crime", a Florida murderer dumped the body of his victim in a swamp during one of the few days when mayflies were active. His alibi collapsed when investigators found mayflies on his car radiator.

    Insect evidence can also help free the innocent. the first European case using forensic entomology was in the mid-nineteenth century. It led to the acquittal of a French couple accused of murdering an infant whose mummified remais were discovered behind the mantelpiece in their home. In a Hungarian case, a ferryboat captain was sentenced to life imprisonment for murdering a postmaster aboard his vessel. After serving eight years in prison, he was exonerated when a forensic entomologist proved that the insect larvae in the corpse had to have been laid before the captain ever boarded his vessel.

    Intentionally exposed bodies are not the only ones subject to the ravages of the insect world. Recently, a Californian familly was temporarily storing the body of their oversized relative in a cemetery shed until the grave could be widened. they were aghast to find the casket swarming with ants. the cemetery then had to hire a funeral home to take on the task of laying the waywards ants to rest before they buried the body. < TOP >
 

3. Do other animals eat corpes ?

    Carnivores and rodents also help destroy exposed corpses. Carnivores including dogs, coyotes, wolves and foxes eat the body's soft tissues, especially the face and hands. Tey also prefer the spongy parts of the arm and leg bones, pelvis and backbone. Dogs and coyotes eat exposed human corpses in a definite order ( Table 2 ) and often carry the bones long distance to their dens to continue feeding. Mice and rats generally feed on the soft tissues of the face, hands, and feet, on the abdominal organs, and on the small bones of the hands and feet.

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TABLE 2 : STAGES OF CARNIVORES FEEDING ON EXPOSED HUMAN CORPSES

       STAGE 1 : Front of the chest eaten and one or both arms removed. the facial tissues are often eaten away.

        STAGE 2 : Both legs eaten and possibly removed.

        STAGE 3 : Only the bones of the spine remain connected. Virtually all of the flesh is gone

        STAGE 4 : All body parts devoured. The bones or fragments of bones are widely scattered.

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        The farther away from human habitation a corpse lies, the greater the chance that a carnivore will feed on it, although even Lassie might take a bite from a corpse should one show up in her neighborhood.

    At one time fire departments throughout the US had Dalmatians ride with them as mascots. This practice, however, declined rapidly once fire trucks began to routinely accompany ambulances to accident scenes. When they noticed the "Spot" had an affinity for the flesh of victim's bodies, the firemen decided that neither their public image nor their stomachs could tolerate their dogs' atavistic eating habits. "Spot" was retired and no longer rides the engines. < TOP >
 

4. How long does it take for an exposed body to turn to dust ?

    An unembalmed adult buried six-feet deep in ordinary soil without a coffin normally takes ten to twelve years to decompose down to the bony skeleton; a child's body takes about half that time. Burial depth and soil temperature vary the decomposition rate. The rate of decay is the same in different-sized adult corpses and thoseof men and women. Clothing on exposed bodies may speed up decay, since it provides the shades maggots seek. Given approximately the same temperature, body size, clothing, and other factors, a body in water (without fish or reptiles) decomposes four times faster, and a body in air eight times faster, then when buried.

    In 1868, a British surgeon examined a series of 350-year-old graves to see how the bodies had fared. Francis Haden studied the bodies buried at the St. Andrews, Holborn, burial ground while they were being disinterred to make way for a viaduct. Only putrid, unrecognizable contents remained of the buried in still-intact wooden or lead coffins. When the coffins were no longer intact or the bodies had been buried without coffins as in the plague pit, nothing remained except a few bones. As he said, "the body itself had dissapeared, and 'earth to earth' had been accomplished". More recently, a group of dental researchers found that the skull of younger adults remain intact longer thanthose of older people, no matter how long they have been buried.

    Scottish lore held that a "grave was ripe" for twenty years after burial, meaning that it was likely that more than bones would turn up if the grave were reopened before that time. Since the Scots frequently reused gravesites, this maxim was well-founded. It applied, however, mainly to unembalmed bodies that were buried in a wooden coffins or without any containers. The inforaml guideline was eventually incorporated into the Burial Ground Act.

    Environmental consitions can delay decomposition.

    Desert climates with low humidity not only decrease or obliterate fly and maggots activity, but can also halt other forms of decomposition. Very dry climates may cause a body to naturally mummify, converting its skin and tendons to a leathery and parchment-like wrapping surrounding the bones, while the organs decay by autolysis and putrefaction. Paradoxically, heavy rainfall also slows fly activity, including egg laying. Maggot activity, however, continues-but with fewer maggots.

    When bodies are exposed to cool moist soil, the soft tissues may decay slowly and turn into adipocere ("fat-wax"), a cheesy, grayish-white mass produced when the body's proteins convert to fat. Thsi state of decomposition may last for many years, since adipocere inhibits the action of putrefactive bacteria.

    The "Bog people" who have been found for centuries throughout Europe represent a similar type of preservations. While soil acidity alone does not affect deomposition, the combination of the acid water and the almost-total absence of air occuring in former bogs has tanned the skins of, and helped to preserve these unusual corpses. An 1837 Danish almanac says of this odd phenomenon, "There is a strange power in bog water which prevents decay. Bodies have been found which must have lain in bogs for more than a thousand years, but which, though admittedly somewhat shrunken and brown, are in other respects unchanged". In the last two hundred years, more than 150 preserved bodies of men, women and children, many 5500 years old, have been discovered in Danish peat bogs alone. Some of these bodies still show evidence of having been murdered or ritually sacrificed, as was said of the infamous Queen Gunhild :

                Now you lie naked, shrivelled and foul
                With a bald skull for a head
                Blacker far than the oaken stake
                That wed you to the bog.

    Bog people are not confined to Europe. One Florida bog has yielded up the remains of nearly two hundred 8000-year-old Native Americans.The combination of a lack of oxygen, minerals which inhibited bacterial and fungal growth, and alkalinizing plant life within the bog has preserved these ancients' brain DNA which scientists are now studying. They hope to unearth secrets about the history, medical diseases, and susceptibility to disease of these ancients, and to better define the interactions among prehistoric American peoples. < TOP >
 

5. Will embalming prevent decay ?

    Yes, no and maybe.
    Yes, because intense embalming prevents decay for many years-even occasionally for centuries. Embalming, however, is rarely done thouroughly enough to slow the decay of the entire body. Embalmers normally concentrate on the parts of the body that mourners see, such as the face, neck and hands. Body parts that are covered by clothing normally receive much less attention.

    An embalmed body exposed to the environment decomposes differently than a non-embalmed body, in part because insects dislike embalming chemicals. Embalmed bodies decompose first in the buttocks and legs, perhaps because the chemicals do not reach these areas in sufficient amounts. The last areas to decompose are the face, chest, arms and hands, although they do shrivel from dehydratation.

    Anyone seriously interested in slowing a body's decay must get a better-than-average embalming job. They can inform the embalmer that they will be checking on the condition of a loved one's body over the next year. One man who did periodically inspect the condition of his mother's bodu after it had been interred in a mausoleum, found that the body was badly decomposed after a supposedly excellent embalming job. He sued the funeral home-and won. < TOP >
 

6. May I be buried at sea ?

    Yes. Sea burials are possible, but they may be rather expensive and difficult to arrange, depending on what you desire.

    Burial at sea has traditionally meant either sliding a corpse ceremonially off the side of a ship or placing a body on a ship that is set adrift. Nowadays, sea burial has also come to mean scattering cremated remains over the ocean. No matter what the method, sea interment has always had special meaning for various societies and religions.

    The ancient Romans feared dying in shipwrecks, since their bodies would then end up in the sea rather than being buried in the ground. As a result, they believed, they might have to wander along the river Styx for a hundred years before entering the land of the dead.

    While most religions do not comment on sea burials, Jewish tradition bans sea burials except in crisis conditions. They even permit the usually prohibited custom of embalming if it is necessary to keep the body intact until it reaches land.

    Early Europeans often equated water burial with the myth of the god-hero who sailed away with a promise to return. This led to elaborate sea burial ceremonies. Wealthy Vikings, for example, were usually cremated with their ships. Accounts from the tenth century A.D. describe bodies being taken from temporary graves to their ships, that were then set ablaze. Depending upon the wealth and power of the individual, clothing, weapons, dead animals, and even sacrificed servants were also placed on board. David Dempsey describes a modern variation of this theme in hos account of a multimillionairess who gave her loyal yacht captain the sea burial he wanted by sinking his body off the Florida coast inside the yacht he had commanded.

    Less heroic was the use of water burials in southeastern France during one of the great plagues of the Middle Age. Faced with an increasing number of corpses, and knowing that both burial and cremation take time and effort, "in Avignon the Pope saw himself obliged to consecrate the Rhone, so that the corpses could be thrown into it without delay, when the churchyards were no longer sufficient.

    Some modern cultures also perform sea burials. The Badjaos, or sea gypsics of the Philippines for example, weight their dead with boulders of metal blocks and throw them into the sea along with their favorite possessions, such as fishing nets, hooks-and-lines, or paddles.

    Deaths aboard ships usually warranted a sea burial. The following are three descriptions of sea burials in different eras. In 1652, Captain John Smith (of Pocahontas fame) wrote that a surgeon's duty after a sea battle was to "winde up the slaine, with each a bullet or weight at their heads and feet to make them sinke; and give them three Gunnes for their funeral."

    A nineteenth-century writer described a shipboard burial in the British Navy :

                The deceased is prepared by his messmates for his 'deep sae grave' who, with the assistance of
                the sailmakers, in presence of the master-at-arms, sew him up in his hammock, putting a couple of shot
                at his feet. The ody is then carried aft, and placed upon the after-hatchway, or on the half-deck, with
                the Union Jack thrown over all ... When all is ready, the chaplain (the captain, or any of the officers)
                reads the service for the dead. On coming to the passage, 'we therefore commit his body to the deep', one
                of the sailors disengages the flag, and the others launch the grating (on which the body rests) overboard;
                the body, loaded with the shot at one end, glances off the grating, and plunges at once into the ocean...
                After the funeral the grating is hauled on deck.

    A similar tale was told by Irene "Greenmouse" Edwards, a nurse whose patient, a young nun, tragically died on a
    civilian British ship in 1929.

                A part of the deck-rail had been removed, and in front of thisstood a trestle. Lucy's body, sewn up in
                green canvas, was brought down in a lift. The sailors placed her body on the trestle and drapred a Union
                Jack over it. The padre, surgeon and officer stood on one side, we stood on the other. The sailors stood
                on each side close to the trestle. When then committal service began the ship's engines were stopped and
                the man-overboard flag hoisted. The ship glided silently over the Arabian sea while the padre read the
                service. When he came to the words '...we commit her body' Iclosed my eyes. The trestle was tilted and the
                body slipped from under the flag into the sea.

    Lord Byron, who probably observed sea burials, gave a poet's description saying, "like a drop of rain, He sinks into the depths with bubbling groan/Without a grave/unknelled, uncoffined, and unknown.

    Bodies buried at sea by Western cultures are normally sewn into canvas bags, weighted and slid into the ocean. Only rarely are they enclosed in coffins, and if they are, it is usually only in a box made of spare planks; a box is harder to sink than a shrouded body.

    While sea burial was common in both the British and American navies during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, French and Spanish sailors "buried" their dead in the gravel ballast in the ship's hold until they returned to port, so the bodies could be interred in a church cemetery.  For the U.S. Navy's Pacific Fleet, the acquisistion of Hawaii, Guam, and the Philippines at the turn of the century decreased their use of sea burials, since bodies could be buried or embalmed at these sites and then transported home. < TOP >
 
 

7. What happens to a body interred in water ?

    A corpse interred in water becomes an ugly, smelly mess.

    Bodies exposed to water decompose approximately four times faster than in earth, and if the water is warm or polluted, the corruption occurs much faster. The corpse's decomposition may be accelerated when it is damaged while drifting along the bottom, by cuts from boat or ship propellers, and even from spear gun wounds in osme coastal or inland waters.

    Insects also get into the act. Bodies that float near land for even a few minutes will have maggot infestations in all body cavities. Aquatic insects may also feed on the body, but these insects seem to accidentally happen onto the body rather than being attracted by the odor. (Forensic scientists are investigating whether aquatic insects can be used to estimate the time a body was immersed in water).

    If a body rests in water for only a short time, especially if the water is cold and contains minimal fish life, a variety of changes can occur. If it is near the shore or rests near a sandy bottoms, sand may wash into the mouth and throat, sometimes forming a hard cast. The skin of the palms and soles intially becomes very wrinkled, called "washerwoman skin" by pathologists, looking similar to a person's hands and feet after spending too much time in a swimming pool or bathtub. If the body is submerged in cool (less than 70F or 21C) to cold (less than 40F or 4,4C) water for as little as one to three weeks, the corpse's tissues convert to adipocere, a compound that stops the activity of bacteria. The preservation from cold water was exemplified by two bodies trapped for five years in a car that sank in Lake Superior outside of duluth, Minnesota. The very cold water produced extensive adipocere formation and well-preserved internal organs.

    After bieng in water for hours to days, a corpse's skin becomes white, soft, and extremely unpleasant to sight and smell. In warmer water, the decomposition advances rapidly, with the skin quickly loosening, darkening and becoming stained with blood. The body bloats and the eyes protrude-the typical "floater". Eventually, the corpse decomposes and becomes part of the environment, as the Hindu Rig-Veda recognized :"Go unto the waters, if you are placed there. you must establish the plant with your flesh".

    At one time pathologists autopsied "floaters" with gunpowder burning in the morgue to mask the smell. They know put tincture of benzoin on their surgical masks or freeze the bodies for at least four hours to reduce the odor. (Benzoin or similar substances are also used by disaster workers while they search for bodies decomposing under earthquake rubble, at airplane crahes, and in similar catastrophes).

    Occasionally, bodies lost at sea become objects of amusement. In Truk lagoon, a world-famous wreck-diving site in the South Pacific, the bones of Japanese sailors were often retrieved as souvenirs by divers or used as props in underwater pictures. This practice stopped in the late 1980s when the Japanese sent a rpofessional diving team to retrieve the remains and bring them back to Japan. < TOP >
 

8. Are bodies buried at sea eaten by fish ?

    Yes. If fish are present to help consume the body, decomposition accelerates a hundred-fold. Fish, crabs and small marine animals quickly begin to feed on the soft parts of a corpse's face. the eyelids, lips and ears are the first to go, and then the eyes, nose and mouth. Dr Carr, former Chief of Pathology at San Francisco General Hospital has said that bodies floating in the cold waters of San Francisco routinely have "shrimps at the orifices".

    In some areas of the sea, large fish are scarce, si it is the smaller animal life that feeds on the remains. These small creatures, however, are quite efficient. Evidence of this was seen during the recent exploration of fourteen World War II warships recently found undisturbed in 3000 feet of water fifty years after the bloody naval battle around Guadalcanal. As Robert Ballard, the undersea explorer, said, "All that's missing are the bodies of the thousands of sailors".

    Larger animals feed on the torso and extremities, with sharks typically removing pieces 8 to 10 inches across. Throughout history, sharks have been found with recongnizable body parts in their stomachs, perhaps due in part to the shark's very slow digestion time (8 to 21 days). According to Dr. Joseph H. Davis, Chief Medical Examiner for Dade county, Florida, one shark was caught off the Florida coast with an entire human leg in its stomach-from the hip to a sneaker-clad foot.

    In one notorious Australian case, a shark that had recently been captured and put into an aquarium for public viewing suddenly regurgitated an entire human arm and hand. This "famous Shark mystery" was eventually solved by matching the fingerprints and a tattoo on the arm with those of a missing person. An Australian court, however, ruled that one arm a homicide does not make-the case was never prosecuted for want of the rest body.

    Fish do seem to be finicky eaters. Yet occasionally, when through accident or intent embalmed bodies are buried at sea, fish generally avoid them. Although thses bodies decompose faster than they would after an earth burial, fish do not like the odor they emit, so bacterial activity and the physical action of the sea cause most of their decomposition. < TOP >
 

9. Must a boat be used for a water burial ?

    Many cultures which used water burials did not bother with boats, but simply tossed bodies into the water from the shore. Ancient Ethiopians, in a pragmatic gesture, threw their dead into lakes so the deceased's body could give back to the fish the nutrients the person took from them while alive. In Melanesia, some corpses, especially those of commoners, were thrown into the sea, either at the deceased's request or to save friends and relatives the trouble of arranging their burials.

    In the Middle Ages, particularly during the Inquisition in Germany, the Iron Maiden, a spike-lined sarcophagus, was used to cause a tortuous death. Pragmatically, the device was often suspended over a river after its use, so that when it was opened the body simply dropped into the water.

    Many Indians traditionally consign corpses to their sacred Ganges River. In the past, during deadly cholera epidemics, entire corpses were thrown in the river, spreading the disease and leading the production of still more corpses. But today, only ashes or bones are consigned to the river, signalling the end of the mourning period. However, since many corpses do not completely burn in the Hindu open-air pyres, the Ganges till receives many large portions of unburned bodies. To rid the river of that pollution, the Indian government developed special snapping turtles. These 70 pounds turtles were bred to eat only dead human flesh, not live bathers. They each consume one pound of flesh a day, and the hope is that they will keep the Ganges clear from this postmortem pollution.

    In Tibet, the bodies of the poor, beggars, lepers and babies are still routinely thrown into rivers and streams. Their weighted bodies are often put into the water intact. Some, however, are dismembered before they are cast into the water, to speed the body's disappearance. < TOP >
 

10. Why do dead bodies float ?

    Corpses that are purposely interred in the ocean with proper preparation will generally sink, since they are weighted. But those that are accidentally or hapharzadle interred (accidents, drowning, foul play) may float for a while if there is enough air in their clothing to lend sufficient buoyancy. Once the body sinks, it resurfaces when enough gaz forms during decomposition to lift what remains. Once it resurfaces, it will sink again only after enough flesh decomposes to let the gas escape.