Some people consider cremation to be their chosen “burial” process when they die. While truly not considered a proper burial (as the common form of burials is entombment of the deceased’s body in a type of grave or mausoleum), many people have turned to the practice for economic reasons. Elaborate funeral services followed by entombment are expensive, as is maintaining a gravesite or mausoleum.
The cremation process has evolved throughout the years. In the past, funeral pyres were built outside in the open air and the body of the deceased was set on top of it. The pyre was then lit and spectators would watch as the flames consumed the deceased’s body.
Nowadays, large furnaces called cremators are used in place of funeral pyres. These cremators use gas or propane that could create fire and raise temperatures for up to over 1000 degrees Celsius. Cremators are housed in special buildings called crematoriums, which are made of highly heat resistant materials to prevent any accidents or injuries while the cremation is taking place.
The cremation process begins when the body of the deceased is placed in a container such as a casket, cardboard box, or any other type of vessel that burns quickly and easily. The casket could be more elaborate if the cremation is for public viewing.
Since the human body is composed of mainly soft tissues, water, and bone, the temperatures of the cremator will instantly vaporize the soft tissues and vaporize the water. All that will be left after the cremation process will be the brittle, calcified bones. The length of time it takes to completely burn the body could vary depending on the size of the deceased, but a typical incineration averages from two to two and a half hours.
The brittle bones left after the process are first allowed to cool. This could take from thirty minutes to an hour. Then, the pieces are swept into a magnetic field to extract any remaining pieces of metal fragments that may have been left. These are usually tooth fillings, implants, or parts of the casket that did not completely burn away. Items like pacemakers are removed from the deceased’s body beforehand as they could be explosive. The bones are then either ground up by machine or by the cremator into pulverized form resembling ashes before being placed in a smaller container called an urn.
The ashes of the deceased usually weigh from around four to six pounds. This is largely affected by their height rather than their weight as all soft tissues are vaporized by the cremating machine. Though called ashes, in truth, the sand-like mixture is ground up bone fragments. They are considered to be very clean and do not pose a health risk to anyone handling them. There are no traces of organic substances left in the mixture. The reason why the bones are not also completely incinerated by the cremator is because they are made up of carbonates and calcium phosphates, which are able to withstand extreme temperatures and heat. The diet of the deceased could also affect their bone structure and the resulting cremated remains.
It is interesting to note that no two people will have the completely same chemical composition after being cremated. The percentages of the elements found within the bone fragments could vary greatly, as there could be traces of some found in some ashes, but absent in others.
An example would be the amount of metals that have been absorbed by the bones throughout the course of the deceased’s lifetime. Factory workers or those living in poorer conditions that are near factories are more likely to have metal elements in their bodies that could be detected in their remains after death.
What To Do With The Ashes
There are many things that the deceased’s loved ones can do with the urn and ashes after the cremation process. Some opt to give it a burial or store it in a columbarium, keep it at home on display, or even use the ashes and incorporate them into works of art and jewelry. Sometimes, the deceased will make a request before his death to have his ashes scattered somewhere that could be dear to him or to a place where he wishes he could have visited in life.
There are also different types of urns that the ashes could be kept in, varying in design and the material they are made of. It’s all just a matter of the deceased’s final wishes or his loved one’s decisions. When the remains are already in the urn, the deceased’s family and friends could opt to have viewing and other funeral services to honor his memory.
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