Earthly Treasures

What Do the Following Have In Common?

  • Takeaway
  • Clown shoes
  • A set of skis
  • Wizard of Oz costume

No, it isn’t a new remedy to ward off Covid-19. They are all items that have been placed into a coffin; along with a mobile phone, a false leg, a guitar, and a fishing rod – not at the same time of course! You would require a sizeable coffin to fit them all in and if the service was a cremation some items would require removing – any item that contains a battery for example as under extreme heat they would become a missile.

The list of items placed into a coffin is extensive. The above examples may appear unusual to a certain degree but in reality, it is not uncommon for items relevant to a person’s life travel with them purportedly to the afterlife.

And this custom has been in existence for thousands of years, the most notable example being the boy King Tutankhamun. Items placed into his tomb included a solid gold coffin, a face mask, thrones, statues, archery bows, trumpets, a lotus chalice, gold jewellery, chariots, model boats, canopic jars, (for the internal organs) chairs, paintings, food, wine, sandals, and fresh linen underwear. Incredibly there were more than 5,000 objects in the tomb.

The Anglo-Saxon’s continued with this tradition and Sutton Hoo, Suffolk is an example of the exceptional capability the Anglo-Saxons had in creating monuments. The site is dominated by a huge ship burial, one of the few of its kind found in the British Isles. Sutton Hoo is the tomb of a seventh-century king, discovered in 1939 and excavation lasted until the late 1960’s.

A ship had been dragged from the river Deben up to the top of a 100-foot-high bluff (steep bank) and laid in a trench. A gabled hut had been built amidships to accommodate a very big coffin and an astonishing collection of treasures and gear. The trench had then been filled in and a mound raised over it to stand boldly on the skyline. Treasures included personal ornaments inlaid with gold and garnets, weapons, the famous ‘Sutton-Hoo helmet,’ silverware; kitchen and cooking equipment, coins, and a ‘ceremonial whetstone’ The variety of treasures and their cosmopolitan nature show the extent to which the Anglo-Saxons interacted with mainland cultures.

Earthly Treasures

In essence nothing is really new and at Willow Row, near St Neots, Cambridgeshire a barrow has been built, following on from the burial chambers of our Neolithic ancestors of almost 5,000 years ago. It is made entirely by hand, using natural limestone, lime mortar and traditional techniques. Housing ashes inside the structure, the barrow is covered by rich soil planted with wild flowers and meadow grass to house cremation ashes and will provide a secular alternative venue for funerals. Barrows were traditionally built for the social elite while ordinary citizens were cremated or buried.

So often, when speaking to friends and relatives about death, folks often say I ‘I don’t care what you do with me; throw me on the compost heap’. Well, now you can although not quite so literally. Recompose, an America company; have developed a system to turn a body into soil!

Washington the first place in the world, legal experts said — to explicitly allow human remains to become compost. The new law, which took effect in May 2020, will allow bodies to be placed in a receptacle, along with organic material like wood chips and straw, to help speed up the natural transition of human remains into soil. It says the process generates around a cubic yard of nutrient-rich soil from the human body, which can then be used for growing plants. If families do not wish to own the resulting human-based soil, it could help reforest a 700-acre area of previously formerly water-logged land in southern Washington in partnership with a non-profit conservation organisation.

So, in essence nothing is new, and as new technologies develop and evolve, we adopt and adapt. Funeral rituals and customs appear to be new but in reality, have just been adjusted to our modern world. It will be interesting to see what funeral practises are established in the future, and hopefully will be an inclusive part of our world, and not looked upon with disdain as cremation was in the 1800’s.

David Crayton

Telephone 01733 561128

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