Mystery as dead bodies are refusing to decompose in these cemeteries in Portugal

In Portugal, gravediggers who dig up bodies and move them elsewhere are finding an increasing number of mummified bodies instead of skeletal remains.

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Due to lack of space, the graves in which we place our dead are not eternal. When they are not maintained, the concessions can be considered abandoned before being requisitioned by the authorities. In Portugal, in order to fight against the lack of space, temporary graves have been set up.

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The principle is simple, by decree, the deceased is placed in a grave for three years before being exhumed and transferred to an ossuary. But this system only works if the bodies have turned into skeletons within that time. This process seems to be taking longer than expected in some Portuguese cemeteries.

Incomplete decomposition

So what is going on with these graves? According to Le Parisien, a morbid phenomenon seems to be becoming more and more common in Portugal, the dead refuse to decompose. Instead of passing from the state of a corpse to that of a skeleton, as should normally be the case, several deceased are found in a mummy state when their coffins are opened.

For family members, who are often present when exhumations take place, this can be a shock. As for the municipalities, it poses a real logistical problem as the lack of capacity to transfer these mummified corpses to an ossuary means that there is a shortage of space (if skeletonisation is incomplete, the body is reburied and the transfer postponed).

Read more: Mysterious 2000-year-old mummy’s face stunningly reconstructed by scientists

Soil unable to decompose bodies

Normally, a natural process takes place when a body is placed in a grave, however, that is not the case with some Portuguese cemeteries, and no one knows exactly why. To elaborate on this unusual phenomena, a study, focusing on the various factors that can influence decomposition, has been published in the scientific journal Forensic Science.

There may be many reasons, but according to the team of scientists led by Anegala Silva-Bessa, the age of the deceased, the reason for their death and their BMI may have an impact on the decomposition of their body.

Having said that, the waterproofing and the type of soil should not be neglected as well. As reported by Le Parisien, Paulo Carrera, from the Association of Funeral Professionals, mentions if the soil is 'tired, reused soil', it would 'not have a sufficient biological load to decompose'.

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This article was translated from Gentside FR.

Sources used:

-Le Parisien: Au Portugal, des cadavres refusent de se décomposer

-mdpi: The Importance of Soil on Human Taphonomy and Management of Portuguese Public Cemeteries

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