8 Spooky Places, and Why They're Like That

These strange places around the world rank among the most macabre, but have interesting explanations.

by Brian Dunning

Filed under Ancient Mysteries, Urban Legends

Skeptoid #323
August 14, 2012
Podcast transcript | Listen | Subscribe
 

Today we're going to spin the globe and look at eight sites full of creepiness, places that drive the mind mad with horror and spookiness. For some, urban legends exist that give haunted explanations for the frights within. For others, bizarre cultural traditions exist that seem macabre to us but are commonplace to those who practice them. But all of them will stick with you, and tint your dreams with a little darkness for the foreseeable future.

We're going to start with something light (literally), to ease you into the depths that await. We'll begin in the Himachal Pradesh state of India:

8. Eternal Flames at Jwala Devi Temple

This Hindu temple in India is best known for its continually burning flames, said to be springing directly from nine rocks located throughout the grounds. Legend has it that they cannot be extinguished, and that no source of ignition is visible. They are the manifestation of the goddess herself, which is why no other idol exists at the temple.

According to Hindu tradition, the goddess Sati, first consort of Shiva, killed herself by self-immolation using her yogic powers. Shiva was enraged and struck out wreaking havoc. To calm him, The god Vishnu took Sati's body and cut it into 51 pieces, distributing them throughout India where each became a sacred site. The place where Sati's tongue landed became the Jwala Devi temple, and the fires still burn today.

But science offers a complementary explanation. Other than the temple, the town of Jwalamukhi has also been host to the Oil and Natural Gas Corporation of India. The area was first surveyed in 1835, and exploratory natural gas mines were drilled throughout the 1980s. Because oil was never struck, none of the mines were developed into commercial production, but a closer examination of the flames at the temple reveal copper pipes which are lit each day by the priests. Outside, a stone-lined pit of water bubbles constantly, revealing the natural gas' presence. Whether the copper pipe is attached to municipal service or is fed by the local natural source is not clear.

7. New Haven's Cemetery in a Basement

It's not uncommon for old churches to have crypts in their lower levels where bodies are interred, but Center Church in New Haven, CT is unusual in that the bodies in its basement are buried in a perfectly normal, cemetery-like manner: Inside caskets, buried six feet deep, with a conventional headstone. Walking through the basement of Center Church is exactly like walking through any other outdoor graveyard. Why did Center Church do this?

It turns out that the explanation is elegant in its simplicity. The cemetery was there first, and the church was built on top of it in 1812 so as not to disturb the bodies. The surrounding earth was built up so the church appears to be on level ground, yet when you visit its basement you find the true original ground level. Moisture eroding the headstones has been a problem, so the ground has been paved with dry-fit brick to allow better drainage. Other than that, you'd never know you're not strolling through the original pre-1812 cemetery.

6. Mapimí Silent Zone

In northern central Mexico is La Zona del Silencio, the Silent Zone. In this remote patch of desert, it's said that radios, compasses, and electronics refuse to function. UFO stories abound, as well as alleged magnetic vortices, visiting space aliens, mutated plants and animals, and just about any other strange phenomenon you can mention. There are no pictures or documentation, just stories and ghostly tales.

Why do these stories exist? They didn't, not until after 1970. An American Athena missile from White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico went off course and crashed in the Bolsón de Mapimí desert basin. The US military located and cleaned up the mess, included soil contaminated by the fuel. A local man named Jaime, who was one of a number of locals hired by the military during the cleanup, saw dollar signs and promoted the stories to the newspapers, and even spoke of building a resort hotel. Jaime's plans were cut short when he was killed in a bar fight, so all that remains are whatever stories sprouted from the seeds he planted.

5. Underground Tomb at Okinawa

World War II saw the construction of many underground bunkers on the island of Okinawa, but one in particular has a gruesome history. The Okinawa District Headquarters of the Japanese Navy was built inside 450 meters of tunnels in the hillside overlooking the Okinawa Naval Base. When it was unsealed in the 1950s, the remains of more than 4,000 Japanese soldiers were found.

Why? When US Marines overran Okinawa in June of 1945, Admiral Minoru Ōta, commander of the Oroku Peninsula forces, ordered all his troops to commit suicide. He died along with 4,000 of his men inside the bunker, except for a few who disobeyed the order and attempted a hopeless charge against the forces outside. Damage from grenades is still visible on the walls inside.

Most of the headquarters has been open to the public since 1970.

4. The Skeleton Lake of Roopkund

High in the Indian Himalayas at an altitude of 5,000 meters (16,500 feet), is a small lake, smaller than a football pitch. Along its shores are the skeletons of at least 600 individuals. Nobody knows who they are, what they were doing there, or how they died. Its location is so remote and inaccessible that virtually any theory falls apart.

The latest studies raise as many questions as they answer. By carbon dating, we know they died around the year 850, ±30 years. From DNA sampling of 31 of the skeletons, we know that at least two very different ethnic groups were represented, one tribe of smaller locals who may have been porters, and one group of taller men from Maharashta. Most were adult men, but some women and even a few teens were found. No weapons were found or any other artifacts that indicates they were anything other than ordinary people.

One urban legend about the skeletons states that all the people were killed in exactly the same way, with a blunt force to the skull, suggesting they all died in an unusually brutal hailstorm. However, only one study ever actually made this conclusion, and plenty of the skulls do not bear the same type of damage.

One probable reason for a group that large to have been in such a remote location is that it's along one route of a pilgrimage undertaken every 12 years by followers of the goddess Nanda Devi. But how did they die? Freezing and avalanches are unlikely; the pilgrimage would not be embarked upon in the winter and Roopkund Lake is very near the top of the mountain and thus safe from catastrophic avalanches. Epidemic, fighting, mass suicide, even the hailstones cannot be discounted. The bones have yet to give up all their secrets.

3. Dead on Display at Capuchin Monastery

Perhaps the most macabre place in the world is the Catacombe dei Cappuccini, the mummy catacombs at Capuchin Monastery in Sicily. Founded in 1631 when the Capuchin friars relocated the remains of a few thousand of their forebears to a new location, this monastery is famous not only for a series of chapels in which bones are arranged as art on the walls and ceilings, but most especially for the catacombs in which mummies are displayed in various states of preservation. Some 8000 mummies, divided into the categories of Men, Women, Virgins, Children, Priests, Monks, and Professionals, are displayed. Many are arranged in lifelike poses, sometimes on furniture, and dressed in various ways. The art of embalming was raised to new levels here, culminating with a two-year old girl who died in 1920, displayed in a glass case, whose body is surprisingly intact.

The question we want most to answer on Skeptoid is why? What is the purpose of this bizarre — some might say disgusting — display? Interestingly, a satisfying answer to this basic question eludes any but a Capuchin or the devout. Their explanations are frustratingly vague. The corpses are a reminder of the brevity of life, or a link between the living and their loved ones. The official answer given by the Capuchin is "Death closes the gates of time, and opens those of eternity." As something of an amateur historian myself, I can't help but conclude that the simple indulgence of someone's morbid fascination was at least partly responsible for the catacombs, given the lack of even an attempt at a cogent explanation. It's little wonder that such ghastly displays are rare in the world.

Tip Skeptoid $2/mo $5/mo $10/mo One time

2. Skeleton Cleaning at Pomuch Cemetery

Pomuch Cemetery in the northern Yucatan peninsula is a cemetery much like any other, except for what goes on there towards the end of each October. Relatives exhume the bodies of the dead, remove the bones from the coffins, and scrub them clean before reburying them.

It's a curious mixture of Catholicism and Mayan culture. The Mexicans who do this are Mayans, who observe la Día de los Muertos — the Day of the Dead — the Mexican Halloween when they believe the souls of the departed return to be welcomed by their families. Souls of children return on November 1, and of adults on November 2. To honor them and show that they haven't been forgotten, the Mayans gives their bones a thorough and respectful cleaning. To Mayans, this practice is like helping to bathe or dress a family member. And as one old man has said, "There is nothing to fear from the dead. It's the living we should fear."

1. Zoroastrian Towers of Silence

One of the world's oldest religions, Zoroastrianism, is still practiced in parts of India and Iran. To this day, they place their dead in dakhmas, towers of silence. These great stone towers have an outer wall, inside of which is a round platform surrounding a central pit. On the platform, safe from scavenging animals, are laid the dead, with no preparation of any kind, with their heads to the wall and their feet toward the central pit. Dressed in whatever they were wearing at death, their bodies putrefy under the hot sun. It's as if dozens of people walked in, laid down, and died.

Bodies that have lain for a year or more are swept into the central pit where the bones and shreds of clothing pile up in a great tangle. Wind and rain and time have their way, and the remains soak through coal and sand filters and eventually seep out to the sea. Occasionally a special pallbearer may enter and sweep the dakhma clean or clear out any bones that have not yet disintegrated.

The purpose of this grisly practice has to do with the Zoroastrian tradition that dead bodies are unclean. They must not be allowed to contaminate the earth or any animals. Thus they are quickly stored high up, out of the way, and sealed from outside contact. What seems grotesque is actually an exercise in hygiene, or at least that's the idea. Technically the dakhmas have been illegal since the 1970s, but the practice does still continue unofficially.

Brian Dunning

© 2012 Skeptoid Media, Inc. Copyright information

References & Further Reading

Adams, L. "Mexican Indians clean exhumed bones to welcome spirits of the departed." St. Augustine Record. 31 Oct. 2004, Newspaper.

Editors. "Roopkund Lake Mystery." Roopkund. Indiahikes, 25 Jun. 2010. Web. 10 Aug. 2012. <http://www.roopkund.com/component/content/article/3-documentation/14-roopkund-lake-mystery.html>

Editors. "The Crypt." NewHavenCenterChurch.org. Center Church on-the-Green, 25 Dec. 2005. Web. 11 Aug. 2012. <http://www.newhavencenterchurch.org/crypt.html>

Editors. "Japanese Navy Underground Headquarters." Okinawa Story. Okinawa Convention & Visitors Bureau, 1 Jan. 2012. Web. 10 Aug. 2012. <http://www.okinawastory.jp/en/view/portal/0600007616/>

Editors. "Religion: The Towers of Silence." Time. 1 Apr. 1974, Magazine.

Gill, A. "Where the Dead Don't Sleep: Sicily's Mummies." National Geographic. 1 Feb. 2009, Volume 215, Number 2: 118-133.

Kaus, A. Common Ground: Ranchers and Researchers in the Mapimí Biosphere Reserve. Riverside: University of California, 1992.

Sharma, B. "Why ONGC drilling operation in Jawalamukhi was shut down midway?" Hill Post. Himachal Media Pvt. Ltd., 21 Dec. 2007. Web. 10 Aug. 2012. <http://hillpost.in/2007/12/21/why-ongc-drilling-operation-in-jawalamukhi-shut-down-midway/4028/general/bijender-sharma>

Reference this article:
Dunning, B. "8 Spooky Places, and Why They're Like That." Skeptoid Podcast. Skeptoid Media, Inc., 14 Aug 2012. Web. 29 Nov 2014. <http://skeptoid.com/episodes/4323>

Discuss!

Morning Mr. Dunning! Only recently came across your site, but already I have listened to over 100 Episodes and introduced my wife to your podcast as well! Great Work.

Unfortunately the listen link for this episode appears to be broken, I have tried it on 2 different computers but still see "Error 324 (net::ERR_EMPTY_RESPONSE): The server closed the connection without sending any data." I believe it could be on your end. Apologies if this is not the case. Thank you!

Maxskunk, Rochester NY
August 14, 2012 7:11am

Hi Brian!

A few ossuaries and crypts still exist, are open (either partly or fully) to the public. These are not as rare as you assert. Here are some examples:

A) The Catacombs of Paris.

An estimated six millions bodies are esteemed to be buried or exposed, with graffitis dating as far as the 17th century still exist. Only a few parts are accessible to the public, with rusty iron gates locking the rest.

B. The Vienna Habsburg Imperial Crypt.

Many of the Habsburg line, both Austrian and Tuscan lines, are buried there, the last of which, Otto von Habsburg, who was Crown Prince when the Empire fell, was intered in 2011.

C. The Douaumont ossuary, near Verdun.

The skeleton remains of more than 130,000 unidentified French and Germans soldiers from the battle of Verdun in WW1 can be seen through looking glasses, even today.

And lastly, the Peschanka Bone Fields, situated near Volgograd (better known as Stalingrad).

Its existence still remains to be conclusively proven through photos or first hand accounts, but allegedly massive amounts of bone fragments, skeleton remains, and used uniform parts and ordnance from the German Sixth Army still linger around in the field in Peschanka, one hour in car from the city, ostensibly left to rot, exposed to elements and wear and tear by the Russians for 70 years. This would be an excellent subject for a future Skeptoid episode.

Nicholas, Montreal, Canada
August 14, 2012 8:13am

I am of Italian and Sicilian Origin. I did not know of the Capuchin Monastery. It is amazing how things that happen culturally or historically can seem so bizarre and macabre. That is exactly my reaction. I wonder what on earth they were thinking! Just how many people over a very long time have not thought of it as "disgusting" almost disgusts me. But of course I am a product of present times and need to suspend judgement,,,,?!?!

Joseph ZAppulla, Melbourne Australia
August 14, 2012 8:16am

People at the time did not have the same uneasiness and creepiness about death, dead people, or skeletal remains.

They were literally exposed to death, either natural, through illness, or violent means, almost every day of their lives. It was almost a ritualistic need to tame death for those who were left living.

Remember that only less than a century ago, we were still exposing dead relatives in the living room inside the house, not in some forlong funeral homes.

Nicholas, Montreal, Canada
August 14, 2012 8:25am

"They were literally exposed to death, either natural, through illness, or violent means, almost every day of their lives."

Europe was still experiencing outbreaks of the plague during the 17th century. I imagine having to deal with the dead was commonplace in the culture.

Government Goodies, Secret Government Lab
August 14, 2012 9:18am

I'm glad you found a less heretical use for the Mormon Organ from a previous episode ;^)

David Thomas, Albuquerque, NM
August 14, 2012 3:40pm

Personally I think we are a lot further removed from our ultimate demise in the west than most other countries.

I havent been to an open coffin funeral or wake in a number of decades.

Saying toodle doo to a friend or relative is getting more sterile by the day.

Sometimes macabre things act as a great warning to incursive forces. The reintroduction to head hunting in Borneo in @1944 had a chilling effect on the imperial invaders. The practice didnt continue past the way years it appears.

Mud, sin city, NSW, OZ
August 14, 2012 8:53pm

for your disturbing practices

Check "famadihama" of Madagascar. (which can include drinking the fluids given off by the decomposing remains of a family member or powerful person, all in an effort to capture for one's self some of the power of the individual)

By the way, my comparative religion text from a few decades ago included information that the "Towers of Silence" were intended to enable vultures access to the remains, and that the cothing of the deceased was slit to facilitate consumption by the creatures.

Gretchen, Portland, Oregon
August 14, 2012 9:37pm

The Capuchin Crypt in Rome is a well known "Bone Show"; Mark Twain wrote about it in "The Innocents Abroad." Skeletons are not only displayed in various poses but also used as building materials for things like light fixtures.

jackie runyan, Ames IA
August 15, 2012 5:41am

I thought that Towers of Silence were open to scavenging birds to pick the flesh off the bones quickly.

This issue of Skeptoid was posted in my email with the title from last week.

Eleanor Forman, NYC
August 15, 2012 7:54am

If you're looking for macabre, try 40,000+ bodies converted into artwork and sculptures - one of the biggest tourist sites in the Czech republic.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sedlec_Ossuary

CW, UK
August 15, 2012 2:20pm

Funny - I read the part about the Eternal Flames at Jwala Devi Temple and thought immediately of Centralia, Pennsylvania. The entire town had to be evacuated permanently due to a natural coal(? gas?) seam burning, that burns to this day, decades later. No one knows exactly what started it.

Even this is not the longest burning natural deposit. Apparently there's one in Europe that's burned for centuries. I forget where, exactly.

Paul Brinkley, Columbia, MD
August 15, 2012 2:36pm

In regard to #4, The Lake of Roopkund, I suspect it may have been an event similar, if not identical, to the one that killed an entire village on the banks of Lake Nyos, in Cameroon.

Source: http://science.howstuffworks.com/environmental/earth/geophysics/lake-nyos.htm

Kneon, Colorado, U.S.
August 15, 2012 9:14pm

I only mention this because it's such a common word, but it's "el día".

Cremation is almost universal here, a much more sensible practice than placing corpses on display.

Thank you!

Tom Bloom, Sankampang, Thailand
August 15, 2012 10:27pm

Capuchin Monastery - your central unanswered question, WHY?, seems sort of silly considering the amount of texts written about ossuaries and their uses in Europe. Most were held to be places where the living could commune with the dead; aiding in the (religious) understanding that "life" is just one step in our spiritual journey. Sure it seems morbid by today's standards, but then again, we now have photographs and videos to remember loved ones by.

ShenaniTims, St. Petersburg
August 19, 2012 7:03am

Couple of thoughts. To the earlier comment about the Lake of Roopkund being similiar to Lake Nyos. Unlikely, since Nyos was about CO2 bubbling up and smothering the countryside. The usual source of the CO2 is volcanic activity. The Himalayas are thrust mountains, and there's no volcanic activity. Plus Roopkund is very small, just a pond. Not deep enough to pressurize CO2.

Also, the Zorastrian Towers of Silence. Since the vast majority of the community lives in India, it should be pointed that they are NOT banned in India, just in Iran. The fact that the bodies are meant to be scavenged by vultures and other birds was not mentioned. The construction of a Dokhma was a prerequisite for Zorastrians to move to any region permanently.

Rohan M., Hyderabad
August 19, 2012 8:24pm

Wikipedia disagrees with the point that Towers of Silence should keep all scavenging animals away, too. They write that communities even started to breed vultures for disposal of the bodies since those animals are almost extinct in India today. I' suprised that you missed that point, Brian.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dakhma#In_India

I also might add, that the best explanation for the Capuchin catacombs is - fashion. A special form of the "pomp funèbre" common in the 18th and 19th century.

Felix Hummel, Regensburg, Germany
August 20, 2012 11:58am

@Paul Brinkley
The Brennender Berg (burning mountain) in Germany is on fire since the 1660s, and the Burning Mountain in Australia has probably benn burning for 6.000 years.

Felix Hummel, Regensburg, Germany
August 21, 2012 10:49am

I'm not sure why you find the answer to #3 is unsatisfying, Mr. Dunning. It's vague, yes, but that doesn't mean it's wrong. It's important to view these things from the perspective of the group that does them--and if they think "It's symbolic of the transition from the ephemeral to the eternal" or some such nonsense is sufficient, that's the answer. It may not be enough to convince you or me to do it (well, it's easy to convince me to use skeletons as decoration--I find bones beautiful, which is one reason for my going into paleontology), but it's obviously sufficient to convince THEM to do it--obviously, because it did.

The logic or illogic of a cultural phenomenon isn't really a factor when looking for why something happens. The mere fact that everyone thinks it should happen is often the only reason for it.

Gregory, California
August 21, 2012 11:35am

Hey guys!

Just a little correction on the mexican Dia de los Muertos or Day of the Dead.

It's not September, it's on November 1st for children returning, and 2nd for adults.

It is a most beautiful display of our respect and love for the dead, in no way macabre. This day goes back to prehispanic cultures.

One of my favorite days of the year.

Fernando, Guadalajara, Mexico
August 21, 2012 12:50pm

Oops! Bonehead error by me. Thanks for the correction.

Brian Dunning, Laguna Niguel, CA
August 21, 2012 2:33pm

Fernando, why is it different for adults vs. children? None of the holidays in my culture make such a distinction, and I can't figure out why it'd be there. I'm not trying to say it's bad--I'm just curious as to why this is the case, since it's so foreign to what I've encountered.

Also, I can't think of Guadalajara without thinking of the concert Hammerfall did there. :D

Gregory, California
August 21, 2012 3:34pm

@Gregory
As an ex-catholic I can say that November 1st and 2nd are different holidays: All Hallows and All Soul's Day - as their names say, the first one is dedicated to all saints, the second one to the souls of the dead. In my area, religious people visit the mass on 1st and go to the cemeteries on 2nd. My guess is that this lead to two seperate Days of the Dead. It would be interesting to know the background. Maybe it has something to to with the belief that baptized children go straight to heaven when they die.

Felix Hummel, Regensburg, Germany
August 22, 2012 12:13pm

Interesting....I thought that Oct. 31 was All Hallows Eve, the celebration of the dead (and something the Church lifted from other religions), and Nov. 1 was All Saint's Day. Given how Halloween is evolving in today's society I can see how it'd become a day for the kiddies, and the next day for more serious contemplation (kids don't have as many loved ones who have died to remember as we adults do).

Gregory, California
August 22, 2012 2:40pm

It is based on all saints day, interwoven with the native's day of the dead, you know the drill, how to conquer a civilization in 3 easy steps, 1) get rid of most with foreign disease, 2) brainwash with religion and fuse with local traditions if available, 3) conquer.
I know this but i'm not sure why children's souls come before adults'...
I thought you were gonna say mariachi or tequila... Both originating from the state of Jalisco to which Guadalajara is capital of.

Fernando, Guadalajara, Mexico
August 22, 2012 10:04pm

Hi Brian. I love your podcast and I owe you again.

About Zoroastrian handling of the dead, I'm a self-styled Zoroastrian, and not in spite of their tradition of exposing the dead (I really thought the similar Indian rites in the movie Jeremiah Johnson were bitchin'). Anyway my understanding of the Zoroastrian rites differs substantially from yours.

Firstly, the whole point is for vultures to clean the flesh off the bones. Problem is, the vultures are increasingly rare, so the corpses are rotting. Not good.

Also, I've been told that priests "process" the corpses a bit to help nature on its way. Certain Tibetans do just this. They chop up corpses for the vultures. Thanks for pointing out that this is done for hygienic reasons, though obviously it's a questionable (albeit bitchin') practice.

One more thing: is it really illegal in India? This is news to me.

Dan Jensen, San Jose, CA
August 26, 2012 7:44pm

Well, speaking of burial rituals:
Here in Buenos Aires 20 years ago public graveyards were very busy places, the city being full of immigrant families from Europe such as mine.

When bodies were buried in the classic graves in the ground, they remained there for only 4 years, and after that they were dug up and either cremated or "reduced" to bare bones, so they can be relocated to smaller grave.

In some cases this was done by the relatives themselves, who washed and disinfected the bones. I still remember some gruesome stories my aunts told me.

What strange things are done to the dead, even without Mayan ceremonies.

Oscar Ferro, Buenos Aires
August 28, 2012 1:28pm

I think there is a remnant of Zoroastrian practice in Iran (obviously).

Mud, Pho's garden, greenacres by the sea, NSW, OZ
August 29, 2012 4:42am

Yes, I recalled even while listening to the episode that the Zoroastrian dead were deliberately accessible to vultures, as so many have also noted.

I'm surprised Brian hasn't made his usual prompt reply on this omission. If the received wisdom is false on the other hand, one would have expected it answered in the story already.

danR, Vancouver/Canada
September 1, 2012 10:17am

The Zoroastrian Towers of Silence (love that name!) were, as previously noted, intended to be places where vultures could "clean" the bodies of the dead. It's really, as Brian notes, an ancient method of sanitation -- putting all your dead bodies in one place, high up, where the scavenging birds can get to them and devour them before they fester and pollute your water source. The Tibetans traditionally do something similar with their dead.

As a (current, and practicing, yet Skeptoid-reading) Catholic, I also cannot say why the distinction between young and old souls exists during Dia de los Muertos celebrations, but can only reinforce that November 1st is All Saints' Day and November 2nd is All Souls' Day.

In regards to the Capuchin Catacombs in Palermo, I haven't been there, but have been to the smaller Capuchin Cemetary in Rome -- cannot recall the exact details offhand, but I believe it is something on the order of 6-10 rooms decorated entirely with bones, with a few mummified monks like in Sicily. As I remember, the point of the Capuchins' obsession with bones is the transience of life -- once you're gone, you're gone. Ashes to ashes, and dust to dust, and all that.

There are other famous Catholic ossuaries in Portugal and the Czech Republic, although I don't know whether they're related to the Capuchins.

Phil, Tucson, AZ
September 2, 2012 3:09am

This podcast is about crazy weird places all around the world which in my opinion is interesting yet very disturbing at the same time. Some areas spoken about were places in India, and Iran and how there are underground basement cemeteries or a temple mosque type place that has been inflamed for countless years. This is similar to the article about ghosts because it was describing ghosts and what they are, why people believe in them etc. etc. The reason i thought these two stories had to do with each other was because i some of the spooky stories had to do with death and ghosts so i thought they went hand in hand.

Jasmine, Albany
September 4, 2012 9:49pm

Zoroastrians (Parsis) intend exposed corpses to be eaten by vultures:
http://www.npr.org/2012/09/05/160401322/vanishing-vultures-a-grave-matter-for-indias-parsis

The process is supposed to be prompt. Vultures can can turn a cow into bones within 20 minutes:
http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2001/12/1226_TVvulturedieoff_2.html

It may take as little as 5 minutes for a human corpse to be reduced to bones:
http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/india/1870-monier-parsees.asp

The religion started in a part of Central Asia where neither burial nor cremation were practical: people adapt.

FedoraLV, Boston
September 6, 2012 10:12pm

This topic is pushing closer and close to Robert M. Prices Pod.

I am sure he has access to an academic who is aux faix on the parsee or is at least "moderately familiar" on the subject.

I'd like to ask how the purity laws of the Parsee affected the subjects of Cyrus' court and their ultimate adoptions amongst their semite dominion.

Here's a point that should be elsehere...Brian mentioned Josephus as a reliable historian. I'd ask to Brian, reliable to Roman Palestine or to prior histories? Things geta bit fuzzy the further you trowel back!!

Mud, Sin City, NSW, OZ
September 13, 2012 4:27am

While living in Sicily I got to visit Catacombe dei Cappuccini. I myself found it very interesting the only eerie part that spooked me was seeing the remains of Rosalia Lombardo who was entombed in 1920 and looks like a child just sleeping.

Jenny, Leland nc
September 29, 2012 10:51pm

In India at least Dakhmas are not banned by law - not at all. They are still in use, but, as others have noted, the scarcity of vultures (which almost died off from consuming NSAID laden cattle carcasses) has meant that disposal of carcasses takes much longer than before.

It might come as a surprise to your readers that the most famous Dakhma in India sits on the priciest land in Mumbai (and by extension, in India) - atop Malabar Hill in South Mumbai. For neighbors it has the Governer of Maharashtra and others who matter though it is surrounded by thick forest growth and is not easily visible from the street.

Prashant, Houston, TX, USA
October 9, 2012 11:22am

Another creepy place for the list: Mt. Everest. Over 200 people have died in failed attempts to climb Mt. Everest and their corpses still litter the path to the summit.

Check this out:

http://www.altereddimensions.net/places/dead-bodies-mount-everest.aspx

Tim, Yokohama
December 1, 2012 6:02am

Please...if evrest was an example of human achievement with what we know now... send another mountaineers with pre fofties facts up that slope!

Clerly everest is about endurance and science has minimised that risk as well.

The fact that humanists mop the slopes for failures is a statement of respect and humanism.

Humanism does not equal weaseling!

Mud, At virtually missing point, NSW, OZ,
December 22, 2012 12:33am

While I find most of these either disturbing or sad, I kind of like the idea of digging up the bones and washing them. Not that I plan to join in the action, but that they treat their dead like they are family. Loved and not forgotten.

Mind you, a nice picnic might have sufficed for me.

After I die, I want to be placed on the mantle in my little urn, and dressed appropriately for the season. Much easier than digging.

Sara, Salt lake City
January 18, 2013 5:03pm

Sara, many different nationalities have a picnic by the grave. You cant generalise on them either. It may be cultures within cultures, but I note a clean the grave and picnic day appearing in the news paper and some italian friends speak of one culture in naples going into crypts and cleaning bones as well.

Diametrically opposed is some cultures consider the body unclean and the spirit being revered.

Mud, missing point, NSW, Oz
January 19, 2013 8:31pm

Does anyone else suspect a limnic eruption as the culprit in the Roopkund mystery? The presence of fractures in some of the skulls could be attributed to people falling down the steep slopes surrounding the lake after losing consciousness from inhaling the escaping CO2.

Kat-chan, Seattle, WA
February 20, 2013 3:30pm

@Mud -- Yes. It's interesting to see how different people treat the dead. We do it every year for Memorial day. Go and clean out the weeds and plant flowers and put flags on the Veterans' graves. It's a pleasant way to spend a day, remembering those we have lost. And it does give me insight into those who DO wish to dig up and wash their dead--or go into the crypts.

I agree that you can't generalize. I find it interesting that so many cultures have similar ideas, and would love to know where the similarities came from.

I also think that it's truly interesting how many cultures are diametrically opposed to each other. Especially the ones that you wouldn't think would be. Different Christian cultures can view the dead so very differently, for example. I would love to have the time to study the reasons behind the differences in some of these cases. What deeper traditions influenced these attitudes. Somehow, it doesn't surprise me that some Mexican traditions and Italian traditions can be very similar. Other ideas are similar as well.

Human cultural differences and similarities are some of things that make life interesting. Understanding them can, however, be frustrating.

Sara, Salt Lake City
February 25, 2013 2:53pm

"Other than that, you'd never know you're not strolling through the original pre-1812 cemetery."

But you *are* strolling through just that. A double negative u=is ugly at best, and this one is incorrect

Gerrit, Nijmegen
March 5, 2013 1:28pm

Vice did a wonderful, yet disturbing documentary on The Suicide Forrest in Japan.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4FDSdg09df8

JaHawk, Dalton, GA
March 12, 2013 5:15am

Hi Sara,
in Madagascar they dig up the dead and "turn" them,
couples also copulate on the mats that the bodies were wrapped in but i think that crosses over from respect to creepy!

tim bucknall, Congleton
March 27, 2013 4:54am

You folk's have some serious thought's Good for all of you, Putting the the dead has some serious thought's to whom is closet to You folk's have some thought's. Coming from a former paramedic, it's not pretty! In a tragic situation. I would suggest go to a emerge ward, and just see how the family reacts It's not pretty! in a tracgic situation. I could tell you some real horror story's But that's not my intention, the loss of a loved one, is bad enough.
Pick up your pices's and go help someone! You'll get through by helping others!!!!

Bill, Canada
June 23, 2013 9:32pm

Sorry Bill.

If you are conveying the loss we all feel when somebody dies to the trauma of the injured and dying to the last moments of life and comparing that to reminscence ceromonies in funereal cultures you miss a point..

Most people today do not see the last moments of life. Funereal culture is ritual reliving and defacto ancestor worship. We all do it in our cultures and think other cultures are a bit odd.

Other than that, maybe see a professional yourself.

Magnanamous Dinoflagellate, sin city, Oz
July 2, 2013 11:44pm

The cemetery was there first, and the church was built on top of it in 1812 so as not to disturb the bodies

I guess my question would have to be.....why?

Was there no other room in New Haven to build a church?

Skeptoid Fan, Canada
August 31, 2013 8:42am

I am due to visit Jwala Devi temple next week and shall try to figure this one out for myself....

Ravi, Birmingham, U.K.
September 10, 2013 12:34pm

@Kat-chan
I thought the exact same thing. Reminds me of Lake Nyos in Cameroon

David, Nashville
May 15, 2014 7:52am

Limnic eruption is very unlikely in the "Roop" case--it has to have a very unique set of climate.geological conditions which simply would not have been present.

SisterMorphine, Canada
November 15, 2014 7:37pm

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