A Look at Why We (Mostly) Bury Our Deceased

Burying the DeadFunerary rites are essentially as old as human civilisation itself. The tradition of leaving flowers for the dead, for one, started as early as 65,000-35,000 years ago with the Neanderthals. Evidence for this were unearthed at site in Northern Iraq in the 1950s, and has since then served as proof that humans had collective ideas about the afterlife.

But, what about burying the dead, or the term “six feet under?” Where did it begin, and how?

A Retrospective of Ritualistic Burials

We have gone a long way from crude cave burials during the Stone Age, to our modern image of funerals from Brisbane and beyond. Archaeologists contend that the ritualistic burying of the deceased in a dug grave started in Ancient Mesopotamia during 3100 B.C. People back then believe that the souls of the buried dead would reach the afterlife easily, since they also believe that the other world itself existed underground.

Another interesting belief is also thought to have sprung from the Ancient Mesopotamians—that of the dead returning to haunt the living. According to them, any person not given a proper burial would return to stalk the living world once more, in a form most of us would recognise as horror movie clichés.

The Mesopotamians weren’t sold on the idea of cremation; to them, a cremated individual’s soul drifts up to the heavens where the Gods reside. They believe human souls are unworthy to live with the Gods in the sky, so they choose to lead their dead back to the underworld (where all other human souls end up).

Origins of “Six Feet Under”

The phrase traces its origins back to the Black Death’s surge throughout England. An outbreak in 1665 prompted the mayor of London to lay down a law designed to keep infections from spreading. He ordered what he thought was logical—bury the infected dead six feet deep underground to prevent the plague from affecting the living.

“Six feet under” can also be backed up by science. Nowadays, a typical burial involves pumping a corpse full of preservatives and completely sealing it in a casket, which is sealed inside another steel or concrete container. Such methods are performed in an attempt to prevent decomposition from seeping out into the world, making the body a harbinger of disease. The minimum grave depth helps much in this regard, helping contain a potential outbreak.