Earth to Earth, Ashes to Ashes, Dust to Dust


“UNTO Almighty God we commend the soul of our
brother departed, and we commit his body to the
ground; earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust; in sure
and certain hope of the Resurrection unto eternal life,
through our Lord Jesus Christ; at whose coming in glorious
majesty to judge the world, the earth and the sea shall give
up their dead; and the corruptible bodies of those who
sleep in him shall be changed, and made like unto his own
glorious body; according to the mighty working whereby
he is able to subdue all things unto himself.”

(1928 Book of Common Prayer, Prayer for the Dead) Link

One of the most fruitless searches on the internet is people looking for the Bible verse that incorporates “dust to dust”. It is not in the Bible. It is in the Episcopal Book of Common Prayer, 1928 edition.

I love cemeteries. I spend a lot of time in them while geocaching and I feel a real deep and abiding peace in them. I love spending time in the small cemetery that my mother is buried in Idaho. She is there with her parents and many of her brothers and sisters and other family and friends.

While there I think about the people as they were when they were alive, not as their earthly remains are now. However there are many people who don’t have that luxury. Medical Examiners and Forensic Anthropologists for example.

Many of our fellow humans are killed violently and their bodies hidden or disposed of by their murderers. Sometimes these bodies are not found for a long time. In order to bring the killers to justice it must be determined when the victims died. That is where the professionals come in to do the unthinkable. Examine the weathered remains and try and determine when and how the victims perished.

I got my new issue of Scientific American earlier this week and it is a special issue on “The End.”  They had an article that blew my mind. It was on a laboratory that studied the degradation and decomposition of human bodies after death. I had to check this out.

The laboratoryis in Tennessee, the Outdoor Research Facility of the University of Tennessee Forensic Anthropology Center that provides research and data to medical examiners trying to figure out when and how people died.  Basically the Outdoor Research Facility is several multi acre segments of woods where bodies are left in the woods and then studied as they decay and decompose. They are not only strewn about the woods, there are bodies left inside buildings, buried in the ground, and left in the trunks of cars. I’m not going to show any images here, there are plenty available on the internet if you are interested, but the bodies are completely exposed to the elements and to whatever critters inhabit the woods. The facility is popularly known in law enforcement circles as the “Body Farm.”

I cannot imagine anything more macabre but the facility has provided a ton of data that helps our law enforcement agencies apprehend and convict criminals. It is the brainchild of Dr. Bill Blass who runs the center. A TruTV profile of him, which includes a tour of the facility is here. There is a darn interesting article on the facility by Alan Bellows on his Damn Interesting web site. (Warning, very graphic photos!)

This is one of the most amazing things I have read about in a long time. If you check out the first link above, you will find that the facility needs bodies, lots of bodies, about 100 bodies a year are donated to them. Of course, if you  live more than 200 miles from them you, or your loved ones, will have to arrange transport of your remains to the lab. What got me is that 60% of the donations are “family donations.” That is where the family donates the body of a loved one, where the loved one didn’t necessarily wish to be donated. Like any good web site, it has links to the documents that you, and two witnesses, need to sign to join the “pre-enrollment list”of about 1300 people who have signed up for the “pre-enrollment” program.

Anyways, such discussions of the disposition of bodies are discomforting to consider but what difference does it make? (Dear wife and family, this is purely a rhetorical question, I don’t want my remains dumped out in the woods and strewn about by the various critters who happen to live there nor am I thinking about doing it to anybody else.) Just something to think about.

I have all sorts of questions. What kind of people become Medical Examiners and Forensic Anthropologists?  Do you know any? How do you feel about such a laboratory? I have to tell you that it creeps me out although I think it is a brilliant idea. Would you donate your body to such a lab? (not me!) Would you send a loved ones body there?

Related articles by Zemanta
Enhanced by Zemanta

18 thoughts on “Earth to Earth, Ashes to Ashes, Dust to Dust

  1. Sylvia K

    A very interesting post — particularly from you and for a Sunday morning, but I was very intrigued. I’m glad there are people who want to become Medical Examiners and Forensic Anthropologists, but I would certainly never have become one. No, I wouldn’t donate my body, although I have asked to be cremated and have my ashes scattered somewhere where I can’t get into anymore trouble. And, no, I wouldn’t send a loved ones body there. I’m glad that some people feel they can and do because I, too, think it is a brilliant idea. I really enjoyed your post for the day primarily I guess because I’m fascinated by mysteries and all this type of stuff that help law enforcement solve them. When I’m sure my breakfast has been digested, I’ll take a look at the sites you’ve written about. Are we really weird to be writing/saying this kind of stuff, particularly on a Sunday morning????? Ah, well, great minds etc etc etc

    Have a great day, stay out of the cemeteries.


  2. Coffeypot

    The ‘Body Farm’ isn’t far from the football sadium. I’ve seen it, but not been inside. I read a paper once on the … That is the dots between born and death dates. What did life amount to in those dots. Just imagine!

  3. Ellen

    Very interesting post, brother. When we lived in Kansas our dentist was one of only two forensic dentists in the state. He openly talked about it and seemed to enjoy that line of work. I suppose it’s like a puzzle that you have to solve. I personally wouldn’t do it, but I can see why some people would be intrigued. No, I don’t want my body donated or those of my loved ones.

  4. Martha Z

    I have read of this place. As a fellow reader of mystery novels, I find this place very interesting. While I don’t believe that our bodies hold any significance after we die, still, it would be had to be consigned to the “body farm).

  5. Julie Jabbers

    OMG, I had no idea places like this existed. No, I don’t want my body to go there, cremation is just fine.
    I will have to check out this website later, hmm…interesting, yet strange.

  6. AVCr8teur

    I have been to cemeteries a few times to take photos. It is peaceful, yet a little spooky. I have to say it is interesting to look at the pictures, read the names and dates on the tombstones. I have heard of the Body Farm, but do not plan on donating myself there. I know of no medical examiners, forensic anthropologies or even embalmers. I, too, often wonder what makes a person want to go into that profession, but I guess someone has to do it and I am glad someone does want to do it.

  7. Tulsa Gentleman

    This is a very interesting and thought provoking post. Thank you Mr. Yogi. While I have no doubt that the information gained by the brave souls at the Body Farm is valuable, I think I will pass.

    The beautiful quote is from the burial service in the Book of Common Prayer. The Prayer Book comes down to us from the Church of England during the 16th century protestant reformation and is represented in this country by the Episcopal Church and its various Anglican variants. The order of Holy Communion (Eucharist, Mass, Lord’s Supper) from that book are included in the hymnals of the Methodist Church, the Presbyterian Church, and the Disciples of Christ and maybe others. English language worship has been greatly influenced by the English Prayer Book for the last 500 years.

    The book itself is the work of Thomas Cranmer who was at that time the Archbishop of Canterbury. Cranmer was instrumental in forming the Protestant Church of England under the reign of Henry VIII and for the creation of the worship services laid out in the Prayer Book. It’s purpose was to facilitate communal worship that would unite the several factions struggling for dominance. It was intended as the name implies to encourage a book of “Common” prayer, that is to be something that the worshipers had in common.

    When Mary I came to power the Roman Catholic Church was again the law of the land and Cranmer was imprisoned and later executed for heresy in 1556. He is now venerated as a protestant martyr or a Catholic heretic depending on one’s faith.

    The Book of Common Prayer and certain of Shakespeare’s plays are often mistakenly quoted as biblical due to the clarity and beauty of their language.

    Interesting topic Yogi. As a cradle Episcopalian I just had to put in my 2 cents worth.

  8. Gemel

    Great post.
    I read a book about those research places, guess we need them in this mixed up world we live in, sadly…
    You always give us a surprise with you your posts, love it.. 🙂

  9. Barb

    Hi Yogi, I’ve read of this TN Lab – maybe in the NYTimes. Hopefully, my husband won’t donate me – I don’t think I’ll mention your post to him, just in case.

  10. Beth Zimmerman

    That is interesting. I don’t think I’ll sign myself, or any loved ones, up for the program although I firmly believe that the part of each of us that is essentially ourselves is eternal and the body is just a shell. It’s still kind of creepy to think about since at the moment … I’m rather attached to my *shell!*

  11. Ace

    Blass co-authors a series of forensic mysteries based on the Body Farm under the name Jefferson Bass. They’re good. I’ve read three so far.

  12. Denise

    Macabre as you say but extremely fascinating. Thank God there are people out there who are willing to do this kind of work.

Comments are closed.