When you consider how rapidly the world’s population has grown over the last several centuries, it’s not particularly surprising that we are quickly running out of places to bury the dead. It should come as no surprise, then, that the “recycling” of grave sites does occur with some regularity around the world, but this is far from a recent practice. In fact, throughout the course of human history, grave recycling has been performed to various degrees, particularly in crowded cities.
Consider this: there have been an estimated 108 billion people who have lived and died. Those bodies need to be disposed of somehow, whether that means burial, cremation or other methods. Do graves get reused to accommodate this need? It’s been known to happen.
A history of grave recycling
In the early years of the Common Era, people throughout northern Europe frequently reused burial mounds that dated back to the Neolithic period and the Bronze Age, figuring they had already been designed for the purpose of burial, so why not make use of the space that was already granted for that purpose?
If you’ve ever been to Paris, you may well have visited the city’s catacombs. These presented an 18th-century solution to cemeteries in the city that had already gotten insanely overcrowded, to the point where bodies were being stacked on top of each other. The catacombs feature thousands upon thousands of bones of the city’s dead, artfully arranged. Visitors can walk through stretches of the catacombs and be overwhelmed by the sheer number of skeletons.
By the 19th century, there began to be a movement to design garden cemeteries on the outskirts of towns. The cemeteries would also serve as picnic spots and parks for walking. The idea during the Victorian period was to romanticize the relationship between the dead and the living, and to make graveyards more functional, recreational spaces that would be a part of people’s everyday lives. This allowed for more spread-out arrangements for burial plots, but even those would only last for so long.
Today, grave recycling is generally done out of economic necessity rather than spatial concerns, especially as cremation continues to rise in popularity. For cemeteries, their primary source of income is leasing plots, which means once all their spaces are filled, they will have difficulties remaining financially viable. This means occasionally it becomes necessary for them to recycle grave sites.
There are other types of graveyards, also classified as heritage sites, that use the “lift and deepen” method of reusing grave sites. In this method, the existing burial gets removed and replaced farther down, to allow for another burial to be placed on top. The headstone is then either buried with them, destroyed or moved to an inconspicuous spot. If you’ve ever been to one of these heritage sites, you’ll know it’s not unusual to have multiple levels of burials stacked on top of each other.
Keep in mind, though, that grave recycling only tends to be an issue for very old cemeteries and graveyards. Do graves get used again near you? For more information about grave reuse in Walterboro, SC, contact the team at Steedley Monument Works today.