IRAQ: Did cavemen invent the funeral? That was the question posed in the 1950s, when the excavation of nine Neanderthals in northern Iraq's Shanidar cave [wiki] produced evidence that the 60,000-year-old stiffs had been left there together, perhaps as part of a concerted effort to mourn their passing. American anthropologist Ralph Solecki, who led the dig, cited a layer of many types of seeds and pollen found surrounding one grave as proof that prehistoric man invented not only the funeral, but also the floral arrangement. Many remain unconvinced of by Solecki's findings, however - and barring the excavation of a receipt from the Grogg & Grogg Bereavement hut, the mystery of Shanidar will never be resolved.
INDIA: Think traditional funeral services are for the birds? Then do your best to die somewhere in the vicinity of one of the Towers of Silence, where one of the neighborhood's Zoroastrians might give you a chance to have the exciting air burial you've always dreamed of. Per their religion, Zoroastrians leave their dead atop a local tower, where vultures handle the nasty business of disposing the spiritually impure flesh. From there, it's as simple as throwing the bare bones down into the tower's pit, where they can rest for all eternity (in a pile with all the others). And while the Zoroastrians do offer several convenient locations throughout the deserts of Bombay and Iran for disposing of remains, you should probably act fast. Remember, the recently declining populations of vultures make this a limited-time-only offer, so don't delay.
GHANA: If you want an ornate but relatively inexpensive coffin, you'll be well advised to avoid the American funeral home racket altogether and die, as no less an American than W.E.B. Du Bois did, in Ghana. There, the dead are often buried in elaborate "fantasy coffins" that come carved in everything from airplane to fish styles.
SWEDEN: The latest technology in funeral services is that of Swedish marine biologist Susanne Wiigh-Mäsak, who in 1999 patented the "ecological funeral," a meticulous cryotechnological process that does all the work of decomposition so that you won't have to. The process begins with the reduction of the corpse to a fine powder that makes your dead self healthier for the environment. Next, scientists extract the leftover metals and send them off to be recycled - meaning that in your next life part of you may just be a Volkswagen Beetle. Finally, the remains are ready to be sent back into Earth - and you can be sure that Earth will be glad to have you, thanks to your biodegradable casket.
ROMAN EMPIRE: When an ancient Roman was dying, the oldest surviving male of the family leaned in close to the dying person and attempted to inhale the dying breath (that's just ... not sanitary). They did try and put the fun back in funeral, though. The rites lasted several days and often featured hired mourners and professional dancers. And while most people know that the Romans liked a party, not many are aware of how much they liked fire. Almost all Romans were cremated, and their ashes placed in a columbarium.
From mental_floss' book Scatterbrained, published in Neatorama with permission.
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