Death is the one element of life that every one of us has in common. Despite the grand commonality, the vast majority of us really have many questions and misunderstandings about death. Death concerns us, confuses us, haunts us, and even frightens us. As a consequence, many people avoid giving much thought to death and what happens once we die. Of course, there are large esoteric questions about what happens to our souls or essences after death. There are also concerns, confusion, and queries about the biological aspects of death. For example, a reasonable question is what does a buried body look like after one year

The question about the state of the human body after a year of burial cannot be answered in a simple manner. Many factors come into play when it comes to the end state of a buried human body following a year. Thus, to answer the question as accurately as possible, the following pathways are followed in this discussion of what a buried body looks like after a year:

  • Human decomposition process
  • “Traditional” burial in the United States
  • Green Burial in the United States
  • Orthodox Jewish Burial in the United States

Human Decomposition Process

The human decomposition process commences the moment a person dies. When blood stops flowing about the body, bacteria that depended on blood flow for nourishment needs to look elsewhere for sustenance. As a result, bacteria begin to consume the organs in the body itself.

Without embalming, the decomposition process continues apace. With embalming, the decomposition process slows down appreciably but does not stop. Thus, at the end of the year, whether a body has been embalmed and buried or buried without embalming, the state of the remains will be markedly different than what existed directly after the time of death. These two states are discussed. In addition, a brief reference is made to burial traditions and the state of remains after a year in the Jewish orthodox tradition. 

“Traditional” Burial in the United States

What is considered a “traditional” burial in the United States today isn’t particularly traditional at all. Although there is a growing movement away from what is pegged as a traditional burial today, a good number of the remains of people who die in the United States undergo a process that includes embalming and burial. For the purposes of this discussion we explore in-ground burial and not placement in a mausoleum. The status of human remains following a year in-ground as opposed to in a mausoleum is likely to differ. 

As a historical note, embalming was hardly used in the United States until the time of the Civil War. Because so many young men were killed in battle, and the remains couldn’t be transported home for proper burial without having to deal with the impact of decomposition, embalming came into vogue. 

Indeed, as was noted, the immediate environment surrounding the remains of a deceased person, including a body that has been embalmed, has a direct impact on the state of that body after a year’s time. Thus, the most commonplace state of buried, embalmed remains after a year is presented today.

A buried, casketed, embalmed body will likely have progressed to state at which the tissues of the remains have fully collapsed. There is no delicate way in which to describe this state of affairs. Experts in the field of biology and decomposition describe a buried, casketed, embalmed body at this juncture to have tissue that has converted into a “watery mush.” 

With that said, body fat remains somewhat intact at this juncture, although it begins to change at this juncture into a soap-like substance that oftentimes is called “grave wax.”

Green Burial in the United States

Green burial in the United States forgoes embalming and a casket that is not environmentally friendly. Oftentimes, a green burial involves placing a body into a biodegradable shroud. When the body is encased in a shroud, it is placed directly into the ground. Because of this process and the lack of embalming and casketing, the remains at the end of one year will be significantly different than what is seen after a “traditional” burial.

Because of the fact that remains are fully exposed to the earth, elements, and organisms of different types that can access un-casketed buried bodies, the decomposition process will have run a further course following a green burial than is the case with a traditional burial. At the year milestone, typically what remains are bones. 

Orthodox Jewish Burial in the United States

Orthodox Jews have an intentional burial practice that is designed to cause the decay of human body to the point that bones are what remains at the end of a year’s time. In a truly Orthodox Jewish funeral and burial, a simple casket is used made out of wood that has the potential to decay relatively quickly in the ground. The purpose of a coffin of this nature is to ensure that human decomposition continues apace. In some instances, holes are drilled or cut into casket to accelerate the process. 

If following truly traditional, orthodox burial practices a buried body in these circumstances should be bones. Historically, in Orthodox Jewish tradition dating back hundreds of years, the bones are collected and reburied in a different type of receptacle, this one being made of stone or something more substantial. 

People from all walks of life do have at least some fascination with death and dying. Today, we focused on what does a buried body look like after a year in time has passed. For the moment, esoteric queries about where our spirits or essences venture after we pass will be a conversation for another time.