What happens to the human body after 100 years inside a coffin (2024)

Video Science

How long does it take for a human body to decompose in a grave?

Gina Echevarria and Shira Polan

2019-08-16T13:00:00Z

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Following is a transcript of the video.

Your body is made up of over 200 bones, a few trillion microbes, and as many as 37 trillion cells. And while death is often thought of as the end of the line for your self, your body still has a long way to go.

It doesn't take long before your body starts to lose what makes you you. Just a few minutes after death, one of the first things to go is your brain. You see, when your heart stops beating, it halts blood flow, which is supposed to transport oxygen to your organs and tissues. So without blood, the most active, oxygen-guzzling organs and tissues go first. And the results are...moist. Because the cells that make up those organs and tissues are 70% water. Without oxygen to keep them alive, the cells self-destruct, spilling all that fluid onto the coffin floor.

By that night, an even more troubling process begins in the gut. Your dying immune system can no longer contain the trillions of hungry microbes that normally help digest the food you eat. So they escape. First, they travel from the lower intestines through your tissues, veins, and arteries. Within hours, they reach your liver and gallbladder, which contain a yellow-green bile meant for breaking down fat when you're alive. But after the microbes are through eating those organs, that bile starts to flood the body, staining it a yellow-green.

From about day two to four, the microbes are everywhere. And they're producing toxic gases, like ammonia and hydrogen sulfide, which will expand and cause your body to not only bloat, but stink.

After three or four months, your yellow-green complexion has turned brownish-black because your blood vessels have deteriorated to the point that the iron inside them spills out, becoming brownish-black as it oxidizes. Also around this time, the molecular structures that hold your cells together break away, so your tissues collapse into a watery mush.

And in a little over a year, your cotton clothes disintegrate, as acidic body fluids and toxins break them down. Only the nylon seams and waistband survive. At this point, nothing dramatic happens for a while. But by a decade in, given enough moisture, the wet, low-oxygen environment sets off a chemical reaction that turns the fat in your thighs and butt to a soap-like substance called grave wax. On the other hand, drier conditions lead to mummification. That's right, you can mummify naturally. No wrappings, chemicals, or intimidating instruments required. Because throughout this entire decomposition process, water is evaporating through the thin skin on your ears, nose, and eyelids, causing them to dry out and turn black, aka mummify.

By 50 years in, your tissues will have liquefied and disappeared, leaving behind mummified skin and tendons. Eventually these too will disintegrate, and after 80 years in that coffin, your bones will crack as the soft collagen inside them deteriorates, leaving nothing but the brittle mineral frame behind. But even that shell won't last forever.

A century in, the last of your bones will have collapsed into dust. And only the most durable part of your body, your teeth, will remain. Teeth, grave wax, and some nylon threads.

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Following is a transcript of the video.

Your body is made up of over 200 bones, a few trillion microbes, and as many as 37 trillion cells. And while death is often thought of as the end of the line for your self, your body still has a long way to go.

It doesn't take long before your body starts to lose what makes you you. Just a few minutes after death, one of the first things to go is your brain. You see, when your heart stops beating, it halts blood flow, which is supposed to transport oxygen to your organs and tissues. So without blood, the most active, oxygen-guzzling organs and tissues go first. And the results are...moist. Because the cells that make up those organs and tissues are 70% water. Without oxygen to keep them alive, the cells self-destruct, spilling all that fluid onto the coffin floor.

By that night, an even more troubling process begins in the gut. Your dying immune system can no longer contain the trillions of hungry microbes that normally help digest the food you eat. So they escape. First, they travel from the lower intestines through your tissues, veins, and arteries. Within hours, they reach your liver and gallbladder, which contain a yellow-green bile meant for breaking down fat when you're alive. But after the microbes are through eating those organs, that bile starts to flood the body, staining it a yellow-green.

From about day two to four, the microbes are everywhere. And they're producing toxic gases, like ammonia and hydrogen sulfide, which will expand and cause your body to not only bloat, but stink.

After three or four months, your yellow-green complexion has turned brownish-black because your blood vessels have deteriorated to the point that the iron inside them spills out, becoming brownish-black as it oxidizes. Also around this time, the molecular structures that hold your cells together break away, so your tissues collapse into a watery mush.

And in a little over a year, your cotton clothes disintegrate, as acidic body fluids and toxins break them down. Only the nylon seams and waistband survive. At this point, nothing dramatic happens for a while. But by a decade in, given enough moisture, the wet, low-oxygen environment sets off a chemical reaction that turns the fat in your thighs and butt to a soap-like substance called grave wax. On the other hand, drier conditions lead to mummification. That's right, you can mummify naturally. No wrappings, chemicals, or intimidating instruments required. Because throughout this entire decomposition process, water is evaporating through the thin skin on your ears, nose, and eyelids, causing them to dry out and turn black, aka mummify.

By 50 years in, your tissues will have liquefied and disappeared, leaving behind mummified skin and tendons. Eventually these too will disintegrate, and after 80 years in that coffin, your bones will crack as the soft collagen inside them deteriorates, leaving nothing but the brittle mineral frame behind. But even that shell won't last forever.

A century in, the last of your bones will have collapsed into dust. And only the most durable part of your body, your teeth, will remain. Teeth, grave wax, and some nylon threads.

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What happens to the human body after 100 years inside a coffin (2024)

FAQs

What happens to the human body after 100 years inside a coffin? ›

A century in, the last of your bones will have collapsed into dust. And only the most durable part of your body, your teeth, will remain. Teeth, grave wax, and some nylon threads.

What happens to a body after 100 years in a coffin? ›

You'll be down to your skeleton but not for much longer. Because, after 100 years, the last of your bones will have collapsed into dust. In fact, only the teeth will be left, given that they are the most durable part of your body. So there you have it.

How long does it take for a body to fully decompose in a coffin? ›

However, on average, a body buried within a typical coffin usually starts to break down within a year, but takes up to a decade to fully decompose, leaving only the skeleton, Daniel Wescott, director of the Forensic Anthropology Center at Texas State University, told Live Science.

How long does a body last in a lead-lined coffin? ›

Following royal tradition, which dates back as far as the 1600s, the queen's coffin was lined with lead, which ensures that her remains stay intact for up to a year. This is because the lead makes the coffin airtight, stopping moisture from getting in and therefore slowing down the decomposition of the body.

How long do embalmed bodies last? ›

Though the rate of decomposition varies depending on temperature, moisture levels, and other variables, an embalmed body will last inside a casket for many years. However, the goal of embalming is to make the body look as good as possible for the funeral, usually about a week after the process.

Do graves get dug up after 100 years? ›

Today, some cemeteries rent out plots, which allows people to lease a space for up to 100 years before the grave is allowed to be recycled and reused. Many countries around the world have resorted to this process as their available land begins to fill.

Why are hands crossed in caskets? ›

Burials may be placed in a number of different positions. Bodies with the arms crossed date back to ancient cultures such as Chaldea in the 10th century BC, where the "X" symbolized their sky god.

Why do they cover the legs in a casket? ›

The most common reasons to cover a person's legs in a casket are to keep focus on their face and to follow cultural, regional, or religious traditions. Half-couch caskets have split lids that shield the lower half of the body and are common choices for loved ones planning an open-casket service.

What does a body look like 1 year in a coffin? ›

For the most part, however, if a non-embalmed body was viewed one year after burial, it would already be significantly decomposed, the soft tissues gone, and only the bones and some other body parts remaining.

How does a body in a casket look after 10 years? ›

As the body continues to decompose, the body starts to give out a reddish-black hue, leaving it looking unrecognizable from the living being that it once was.

What happens to a body in a sealed casket? ›

In fact, a casket that is hermetically sealed increases the rate of body decomposition. And if a casket is to be entombed in a mausoleum or crypt, the cemetery will actually break the rubber seal to prevent accelerated decomposition.

Do caskets fill with water? ›

Water can infiltrate a burial site in several ways, and each type of casket, whether it's sealed, unsealed or inside a vault, can develop issues. For example: Wooden caskets can decompose and spring leaks. Air pockets trapped inside above-ground vaults make them more likely to float.

How long does it take for a body to start smelling? ›

A detectable decomposition smell begins within 24-48 hours as putrefaction sets in and intensifies any time between 4-10 days, depending on the conditions. The onset of putrefaction is determined by the green discoloration on the skin near the cadaver's large intestine and/or liver.

Are eyes removed during embalming? ›

Your loved ones eyes are closed using glue or plastic eye caps that sit on the eye and hold the eyelid in place.

What do funeral homes do with the blood from dead bodies? ›

What Do Funeral Homes Do with the Blood from the Dead Body? The funeral home drains off the blood via the veins. They then send the blood and other fluids such as lymph into the municipal sewage system. In turn, the waste disposal officers treat these fluids before entering the town's wastewater system.

Is the brain removed during embalming? ›

NO. Embalming doesn't remove any organ in the body. Instead, the embalmer replaces the blood with embalming fluid – formaldehyde-based chemicals – through the arteries. For this reason, an embalmed body placed in a casket can last for many years.

What does a body look like after being buried in a casket for 10 years? ›

As the skin loosens, it also separates from the toe and fingernails of the body. As the body continues to decompose, the body starts to give out a reddish-black hue, leaving it looking unrecognizable from the living being that it once was.

How long can a body be kept without embalming? ›

But generally, when you work with a funeral home, your loved one will be refrigerated for between eight and 24 hours before embalming. If you don't want to embalm at all, most mortuaries offer short-term refrigeration, which can allow you to delay the funeral for up to two weeks.

What does a real decomposed body look like? ›

From three to five days after death, the body will begin to bloat from gasses produced from internal decomposition. The body could actually double in size and turn a greenish color. Extremely unpleasant and long-lasting odors called putrification begins. Blood and foam will begin to seep from the mouth.

How long do cemeteries keep bodies? ›

If you've considered asking, “how long do you stay buried in a cemetery?” the answer is typically 100 years or more. Plots are sold for 50 to 100 years, but it's unusual to remove anyone from the burial grounds unless the need for space requires it.

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