- Premature burial
Animals and humans may be buried alive intentionally (as a form of
torture, murder or execution), voluntarily (as a stunt, with the intention to escape), accidentally (e.g. under rubble due to a disaster or collapse of a building or cave), or unintentionally (in the mistaken belief that the living person is dead).
Physics and biology
If interment (burial) is not reversed within a short period, it leads to death, usually through one or more of the following:
asphyxiation, dehydration, starvation, or (in cold climates) exposure. Although human survival may be briefly extended in some environments as body metabolismslows, in the absence of air, loss of consciousness will take place within 2 to 4 minutes and death by asphyxia within 5 to 15 minutes. Permanent brain damage through oxygen starvation is likely after a few minutes, even if the person is rescued before death. If fresh air is accessible in some way, survival is more likely to be on the order of days (in the absence of serious injury).
A person trapped with air to breathe can thus last a considerable time, and burial has been used as a very cruel method of execution, lasting sufficiently long for the victim to comprehend and imagine every stage of what is happening (being trapped in total darkness with very limited or no movement) and to experience great psychological and physical torment including
panicand extreme claustrophobia.
At least one report of accidental burial goes back to the 13th century. Revivals have been triggered by dropped coffins, grave robbers, embalming, and attempted dissections. Fearing premature burial,
George Washington, on his deathbed, made his servants promise not to bury him until three days after his death.Fact|date=February 2007 Patients in the 1990s have been documented as accidentally being bagged, trapped in a steel box, or sent to the morgue. [http://www.snopes.com/horrors/gruesome/buried.asp "Just Dying to Get Out", snopes.com, 9 June 1999] ] Count Karnice-Karnickiof Belgiumpatented a rescue device in 1897, which mechanically detected chest movement to trigger a flag, lamp, bell, and fresh air. Along similar lines, in Great Britainvarious systems were developed to save those buried alive, including breakable glass panels in the coffin lid and pulley systems which would raise flags on the surface. Without air supply, as in the Italian model, this naturally would be useless without vigilant guards above ground. As such, undertakers were hired to stay in the graveyard at night to watch out for such signals, hence the term "graveyard shift". In 1995, an Italian coffin manufacturer introduced a model with a beeper and intercom system. These are all examples of safety coffins.
As a means of execution
In ancient Rome a
Vestal Virginconvicted of violating her vows of celibacywas "buried alive" by being sealed in a cave with a small amount of bread and water, ostensibly so that the goddess Vesta could save her should she have been truly innocent. [Plutarch, "Parallel Lives", Life of Numa Pompilius, [http://penelope.uchicago.edu/Thayer/E/Roman/Texts/Plutarch/Lives/Numa*.html#10 10] ]
Christiantradition, a number of saints were martyred this way, including Saint Castulus[ [http://www.heiligenlexikon.de/BiographienC/Castulus_Kastulus.htm Castulus (Kastulus) - Ökumenisches Heiligenlexikon ] ] and Saint Vitalis of Milan. [ [http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/15486a.htm Catholic Encyclopedia: St. Vitalis ] ]
In medieval Italy, unrepentant murderers were buried alive. This practice is referred to in passing in canto XIX of
In the 17th and early 18th centuries in feudal
Russia, the same mode of execution was known as "the pit" and used against women who were condemned for killing their husbands [http://allpravo.ru/library/doc101p/instrum2363/] . The last known case of this occurred in 1740.In Jahhileyya, before the appearance of Islam, some Arabs used to bury their newborn daughters alive, as they regarded them as a source of shame and poverty.
On rare occasions some people actually voluntarily arranged to be buried alive, reportedly as a demonstration of their controversial ability to survive such an event. In one story taking place around 1840,
Sadhu Haridas, an Indian fakir, is said to have been buried in the presence of a British military officer and under the supervision of the local maharajah, by being placed in a sealed bag in a wooden box in a vault. The vault was then interred, earth was flattened over the site, and crops were sown over the place for a very long time. The whole location was guarded day and night to prevent fraud, and the site was dug up twice in a ten-month period to verify the burial, before the fakir was finally dug out and slowly revived in the presence of another officer. The fakir said that his only fear during his "wonderful sleep" was to be eaten by underground worms. This event is highly suspicious as, according to current medical science, it is not possible for a human to survive for a period of ten months without food, water, and air. [http://www.mysteriouspeople.com/suspended_animation.htm]
Since many who have tried this feat died as a result, being voluntarily buried alive is not legal in India.
In 2003, performer
David Blaineunderwent a burial within a tank of water, which allowed for above-ground viewing, for a duration of seven days. [http://www.magicdirectory.com/blaine/buriedalive.shtml]
"Being Buried Alive" (2005, 2007): A performance staged several times by art group
monochrom. People in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Vancouverand Torontohad the opportunity to be buried alive in a real coffinfor fifteen minutes. As a framework program monochrom members held lectures about the history of the science of determining death and the medical cultural history of "buried alive".
In 2008, escape artist Curtis Lovell II recreated Houdinis buried alive stunt. Lovell was chained and shackled and over 200 pounds of dirt poured onto his pine coffin. Performed on Halloween in the City of Grand Terrace the same day that Houdini passed.
Myths and legends
urban legendcirculated by e-mail, The Bad Old Daysclaims that the English idiom“saved by the bell” originated in medieval rope systems to alert surface dwellers in the case of accidental burial.
The TV show "
MythBusters" tested the myth to see if someone could survive being buried alive for two hours before being rescued. One host, Jamie Hyneman, tried it. However, due to the coffin bending under the stress of the dirt used to cover it, the experiment was prematurely aborted because of the danger of testing the myth.
St. Oran was a druid living on the Island of Iona in Scotland's Inner Hebrides. He became a follower of St. Columba, who brought Christianity to Iona (and mainland Europe) from Ireland in 563 AD. When St. Columba had repeated problems building the original Iona Abbey, citing interferences from the Devil, St. Oran offered himself as a human sacrifice, and was buried alive. He was later dug up and found to be still alive, but he uttered such blasphemous words describing what of the afterlife he had seen and how it involved no heaven or hell, that he was ordered to be covered up again. The building of the Abbey went ahead untroubled, and St. Oran's chapel marks the spot where the saint was buried.Fact|date=April 2008
In popular culture
* In the final act of the Verdi
opera" Aida" ( 1871), the hero Radames is buried alive as a punishment by the Egyptians, where unknowingly he joins the heroine Aida (an Ethiopian princessenslaved by the Egyptians), his lover [ [http://www.musicwithease.com/verdi-aida-synopsis.html Aida - Synopsis] ] .
Edgar Allan Poewrote a short story by this name, and it is a recurring theme in his work.
Edgar Allan Poe's short story “ The Cask of Amontillado”, the enemy of Montrésor, Fortunato, is walled up in his catacombs.
* A major plot point in
The Fall of the House of Usherby Edgar Allan Poe.
Sophocles' "Antigone", the character of Antigone is sentenced to execution by being placed in a cave and having the doors covered with stones.
* In Kill Bill volume 2, The Bride is buried alive under the grave of Paula Schultz, as a Texas Funeral.
List of premature obituaries
* [http://www.bbc.co.uk/northernireland/yourplaceandmine/armagh/mccall_grave.shtml Article detailing real-life case]
* [http://www.poenightmares.com/ "Nightmares from the Mind of Poe"] full text, summary and film information.
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