How the dead help the living

17th February 2015 by Judith Harvey

How the dead help the living

How the dead help the livingUntil 2004 it was illegal in this country to practise surgical techniques on cadavers. Dissection, yes, but not surgery. Throughout history attitudes to dead bodies have been shrouded in paradox. In every culture, the living invent rituals to appease the spirits of the dead.

Humans have been preserving their dead for 7000 years. The ancient Egyptians did it so that the former owner’s soul could recognise the body and inhabit it again in the afterlife. Pre-Inca cultures in Peru probably had a similar purpose. In both areas the hot dry sand did a fairly good preservation job. Embalming appears to have evolved as a way to improve the prospects in the hereafter for those who could afford the expensive chemicals and rituals. The poor took their chances in the next world just as they did in this one.

Some things don’t change: in California, cryonics now offers the very wealthy the hope of a future life, though not in the hereafter. Some modern embalming is less satisfactory in the long run. Just take a look at Lenin and Mao in their mausoleums.

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