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Dead Serious

What you need to know (and more!) about above-ground burials

Dead Serious

What you need to know (and more!) about above-ground burials

Types of above-ground burials to commemorate your loved ones.

Burials have been around for an incredibly long time. In late 2021, archeologists discovered the oldest documented grave of an infant girl in Liguria, Italy, dated approx. 10,000 to the Mesolithic period. Meanwhile, the oldest known burial on the African continent comes from Kenya, and that one is dated to approx. 78,000 years ago. Both sites are fascinating in what they can teach us about ancient humans and their beliefs and motivations. In many ways, we’re still doing the same things, tending to our dead to honor them in some fashion.

But not all burials are designed the same. While people have routinely placed the dead within the ground in a variety of ways, other burials have been done above the surface of the earth. Some have even been grander than that, inspiring awe with their architecture and dedication. Above-ground burials are just as fascinating, and they tell us so much about the ways human beings see our place in the world.

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  1. Types of above-ground burials
  2. Famous & notable examples
  3. Things to consider

Types of above-ground burials

Tombs: a tomb is any kind of vault or chamber that houses the deceased. They were constructed to protect the body and items they thought were necessary for the afterlife. Some ancient tombs, such as those of the Shang Dynasty in China featured ceremonial vessels, clothing, food, and even other people.

Crypts: A crypt is a stone chamber beneath the bottom floor of a church or building. They are known from the early Christian period, as ancient Christians began the practice of interning their dead within catacombs built underneath churches. Traditionally underground, there are examples of above-ground crypt structures.

Mausoleums: A building that holds the remains of one or more people and can either be public or private. Public mausoleums house many individuals, and can cut the cost of a burial since it is shared between many people.

Famous & notable examples

Tombs, crypts, and mausoleums can range from the relatively simple to the immaculately complex depending on the people involved, culture, and time. Below are some famous examples from around the world.

Kasubi Tombs (Kampala, Uganda)

The Kasubi Tombs are the royal burial sites for four kampalas, kings of the Buganda Kingdom, of which Uganda gets its current name. Hugely important spiritually for the Ganda people, they house the remains of Muteesa I, Mwanga II, Daudi Chwa II, and Sir Edward Muteesa II. Descendants of these four kampalas are buried elsewhere on the sites.

Taj Mahal (Agra, India)

At the risk of sounding ignorant, I had not known that the Taj Mahal was a mausoleum. It was commissioned in 1632 by the Mughal emperor, Shah Jahan (1628 – 1658) to house the tomb of his favorite wife, Mumtaz Muhal, though the structure also houses Shah Jahan’s tomb as well. All together, the building’s cost at the time is estimated to have been ₹32 million rupees, or $1 billion in today’s USD.

Pyramids of Giza (Giza, Egypt)

An equally well-known example, the Pyramids of Giza (c. 2600 BCE) are just some of the 118 structures built to house pharaohs and their consorts during the Old and Middle Kingdom periods of ancient Egypt. Some of the pyramids are so old, in fact, that Queen Cleopatra herself lived closer to the moon landing in 1969 and the release of the iPhone than the construction of the Pyramids of Giza.

Things to consider

Now that we’ve shown the great lengths people have gone to inter the dead, there’s still a burning question: should you have an above-ground burial? As with all things, there are considerations, such as location, price, extraness, etc.

For starters, let’s look at price and location. In South Carolina, the average burial plot costs around $1,100 on average. Compare that to California, where the average burial plot cost is around $4,000. Not quite as expensive as the Taj Mahal, but still fairly pricey. There’s also the consideration of what type of above-ground burial. Let’s say you want a public indoor community mausoleum burial; that can cost you, on average, between $7000 – $8000. Meanwhile, family walk-in mausoleums can cost upwards of $250,000!

This all comes down to how you or your loved ones want to be remembered and honored. Mausoleums can be built high up, making better use of limited land space, and don’t require consistent watering to be taken care of. But they still house bodies, which, over time, can produce odors which would normally be hidden by the ground.

Whether or not you choose to have an above-ground burial, it’s still a well-worn practice shared by countless cultures around the world. We want those who have left us to be remembered in ways that point to just how important they were to those still here. And sometimes we like to be a little bit extra with that remembrance.

The opinions we expressed in this post are for general informational purposes only and are not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations.