Why Do We Bury Dead Bodies Six Feet Under?
I have pondered on this for a while so
I decided to make a little research.
The "six-feet" idiom came to be during
the Great Plague of London in 1665.
With 20 percent of London’s
population succumbing to the Bubonic plague, the death rate had
reached over 8,000 per week. The
disease continued to sweep the
country due in part to the shallow
graves that bodies were buried in, or
so they believed at the time. In an effort to limit the outbreak, The
Lord Mayor of London enacted a series
of rules in regard to the plague, which
included a mandate that all graves be
buried a minimum of six feet deep.
The law fell into disuse for a time as dead bodies were not responsible for
the spread of the disease.
The law was eventually overturned in
England and its colonies, but this
didn’t last long. By the 19th century
medical science had seen a huge increase in the use of human cadavers
for teaching purposes. While most
bodies used were executed criminals,
the indigent or donated bodies, the
increasing demand led to a shortage
of corpses. This demand created a new type of criminal, the
Resurrectionists; criminals who stole
corpses, also known as “body
Grave robbing became a lucrative
business. Grave robbing became a very
profitable business. Some grave
robbers were able to dig up four
corpses per night in less than two
hours to sell to the medical colleges.
They could perform this task so quickly because during this period
many bodies were buried only six
inches below the surface. As the fear
of being exhumed and displayed in an
anatomical theatre for dissection
haunted the aristocracy, the law reverted to the old standard of being
buried six feet deep.
Modern American burial laws vary
from state to state, with many states
requiring just a minimum of 18 inches
of soil on top of the casket or burial vault. Given an 18-inch dirt buffer and
the height of the average casket, a
grave as shallow as four feet would be
sufficient, but old habits die hard and
six feet deep is now standard.