Death is a mystery, and burial is a secret.
Stephen King, Pet Semetary
Burial practices vary from culture to culture. Burial and cremation are common in First World countries, but the Zoroastrians believe that dead bodies pollute earth or fire. So they place corpses at the top of a tower – sometimes called a tower of silence - and exposed to birds of prey and natural decomposition.
If burial is intended to preserve the corpse, there are several ways to do this. Corpses could be immersed in wax – or better still, embalmed. In the far north, they might be frozen – imagine a huge berg/graveyard with headstones carved from ice. The classic example comes from the ancient Egyptians, who extracted internal organs and preserved those along with the bodies.
Makes you wonder if their elaborate tombs are to keep robbers out or to keep the dead in. Maybe both.
Of course, some burials are intended to have a different result. In the Stephen King novel, two graveyards are different sides of the same coin – there’s the Pet Semetary, where pets are buried, and there’s the Micmac burial ground beyond it. That’s the place from which animals – and humans – can come back.
Sailors have no choice but to carry out burial at sea, though they may also try salt preservation of corpses. Assuming they have the time and the space to carry these, which is by no means a given. What if each such ship had a specially bred shark following it for that purpose, though? Each time someone was newly dead or near dead, the body would be given to the shark, so that some part of the person’s soul would live on in the creature’s body.
There are other options for burials – placing a corpse within the heart of a hollow tree and closing that up, for instance. Or there may be a special city set aside for that purpose – a necropolis or gravetown. Or burial may be seen as more wasteful than continuing to utilize the body. Maybe it’s offered to an alien species which needs hosts and which is happy to accept the gift.
Burial of the dead is one of the things that links us to the earliest humans, and can be a fascinating part of another culture.