In the old days, before any reliable methods of determining death existed, there was always that slight chance you’d be buried alive.
Devices were invented to help, with tubes inserted into coffins to provide oxygen, and instruments that would ring bells if movement was detected underground (leaving the buried person to hope that someone nearby would notice).
There was even a burial vault with escape hatches, designed to allow easy evacuation for anyone buried prematurely.
But does it still happen? Short answer: Kind of.
This past week brought two new cases of nearly premature burial. One person walked away just fine, barely escaping a permanent residence under the earth; the other couldn’t quite break away.
She Climbed Out Of Her Coffin
When Li Xiufeng, 95, was found motionless and not breathing at her home in Beiliu, Guangxi in China, her neighbors took care of the arrangements. They kept her in an unsealed coffin right inside her home, as per Chinese tradition, and for nearly a week family, friends, and neighbors were allowed to enter and pay their respects.
But on the sixth day, something peculiar happened.
When her neighbor arrived on the final day before the burial, he found the coffin empty. Where had the corpse gone?
“I slept for a long time. After waking up, I felt so hungry, and wanted to cook something to eat.”
– Li Xiufeng, Walking Dead
Reportedly, this was a case of “artificial death,” which occurs “when a person has no breath, but their body remains warm.”
Li Xiufeng got lucky, saved by an old tradition and, we can assume, hunger pangs. One more day and she would have been sleeping forever.
He Dug His Own Grave
Not everyone is so lucky.
Janaka Basnayake, a 24-year-old Sri Lankan man, wanted to set a record. He wanted to see how long he could stay buried some 10 ft underground, encased in a trench with wood and soil.
He remained buried for six and a half hours, from 9:30 a.m. until 4:00 p.m., and we can assume he would have broken the record.
If he hadn’t died in the process.
When he was dug up at 4:00 p.m., his body was found lifeless and, once at the hospital, he was immediately pronounced dead.
“…a post-mortem could not determine the cause of death and further medical investigations are being conducted.”
I wonder what they’ll find.
Of course, neither of these cases are examples of modern day premature burials. Not in the traditional sense. But we can still come away with two very important lessons:
1. Always make sure they’re dead, and
2. Don’t bury yourself 10 ft underground.
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