The common phrase “six feet under” has become deeply associated with death and burial across many societies. Its origin and significance are a blend of historical exigencies, health precautions, and cultural evolution. This exploration dives into the intricate reasons behind the established depth of six feet for burials.
A Historical Perspective
The genesis of the six-foot burial depth can be traced back to the year 1665 during the Bubonic Plague’s invasion of London. The virulent spread of this devastating disease led the Lord Mayor of London to mandate that graves be dug to a minimum depth of six feet. This wasn’t a random number; it was a deliberate measure to combat the spread of the plague.
By placing corpses deeper in the ground, the city’s officials believed they were minimising the chance of the disease surfacing and infecting the living. There were concerns about the plague being propagated by nocturnal animals digging up the infected bodies, thereby continuing the vicious cycle of infection.
Health and Safety
Historically, in the absence of modern embalming techniques, bodies would decompose at a relatively quick pace. A shallower grave posed multiple risks. For one, scavenging animals could easily exhume a body from a shallow grave, leading to the unpleasant and unsanitary scattering of remains.
Moreover, the smell of decomposition from a shallowly buried body could permeate the surrounding area, causing distress to communities and also attracting more scavengers. By placing bodies six feet under, these risks were substantially minimised. This depth ensured a barrier of soil that animals would not typically penetrate and sufficiently masked the odours of decomposition.
Cultural and Religious Beliefs
Throughout the ages, burials have been an intrinsic ritual, rich with symbolism. The depth of a grave often holds symbolic significance. In various cultures, burying the dead deeper signifies sheltering them from the world above, ensuring their peaceful transition to the afterlife or protecting them from malevolent spirits.
In Christianity, for instance, burials often mirror the death and resurrection of Christ. The act of burying the dead is not just a physical act but a spiritual ritual, ensuring the deceased is safely guided to the next realm. The depth reinforces this demarcation between the world of the living and the departed.
Modern Day Variations
The axiom “six feet under” is globally recognised, yet, in reality, the depth of graves often varies. In contemporary settings, many graves are dug to depths of around four feet. With the advent of modern machinery and techniques, it’s possible to ensure that a grave remains undisturbed even if it isn’t a full six feet deep. Geographical considerations also play a role. In areas with high water tables, for example, it’s challenging and impractical to dig to a depth of six feet without encountering waterlogged conditions.
The Environmental Shift
The last few decades have witnessed a heightened awareness of our ecological footprint, and this extends to our burial practices. The green burial movement advocates for minimal environmental interference. In such burials, bodies aren’t embalmed — a process that introduces chemicals like formaldehyde into the soil. Instead, they’re placed in biodegradable coffins or shrouds.
Green burials often employ shallow graves. Positioned closer to the surface, the body can more rapidly return to the earth, and decomposition is facilitated by the presence of surface microbial life and oxygen. This method aligns with a philosophy of life and death that emphasises harmony with the natural world.
Beyond practicality and tradition, the depth of burial taps into our primal feelings about death and the afterlife. The act of placing our loved ones deep within the earth provides solace. It symbolises sheltering the departed from the elements, potential disturbances, and the ceaseless march of time.
For many, there’s an innate need to ensure that the resting place of their loved ones remains untouched and sacrosanct. The depth serves as both a physical and symbolic barrier, providing assurance that the deceased can truly rest in peace.
Contact Victoria Funeral Home
The tradition of burying our departed six feet under is rooted in a mix of historical necessities, practical considerations, and deeply held beliefs. While the exact depth of modern graves might vary due to various reasons, the act of burial remains a profound human ritual, reflecting our shared history, hopes, and concerns about the great beyond. To find out more about our funeral plans and burial services in Aberdeen, contact our friendly and professional team at home today.