Body Disposal Post Collapse

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Top Tier Gear USA


Several people have posed the question recently of what to do with corpses, of which there will be many, post-collapse. There are views ranging from leave them where they drop hoping animals will deal with them, to funeral services conducted by …whoever, through to mass burials and cremation. There are circumstances that will most likely fit all of these solutions, but leaving a body where it is, particularly if it is in the vicinity of you and your family is in my opinion, the worst thing you could do.

Obviously if someone in your group passes over you will want to deal with them respectfully and in line with their religious beliefs. A six foot deep hole in the back garden, away from any water course is enough to satisfy the health and hygiene aspects of death. This should be carried out as soon as is practicable before breakdown and decay start to occur. If it is winter and the ground is frozen the body may have to be wrapped and stored outside until the ground is soft enough to dig.

What happens though if it is not a member of your group, and it is not one body but lots of bodies, what do you do then?

I am going to tell you what happens after death, you will see why leaving bodies where they are is not an option if you want to avoid not only disease, but an influx of animals and insects from bears down to flies.

Once death occurs degradation starts almost immediately and for bodies not taken away and dealt with by undertakers, morticians and coroners visible signs of decay can start in as little as 15 minutes after death if the conditions are warm and humid.

At the point of death the body starts to cool, within four hours the body will be at or close to the temperature of its surroundings. During this time the skin will have paled visibly and will be waxy looking. Postural lividity caused by blood pooling and coagulating in the lowest part of the body will have occurred so, someone lying face down will be discolored, looking a purple/dark blue color on the front of their body.

The muscles that control the bowel and the bladder will have lost their tonicity, they will be relaxed and moving the body will cause both to evacuate. Rigor Mortis, which literally translates as ‘stiffness in death’ will be complete at around the 12 hour point after death. The only way to change the position of the body once it has set in is to ‘crack’ the rigor, literally snapping the muscles to alter the position. Rigor will wear off over the next 18-24 hours but by then, if left the internal organs of the body have started to decay. Gases build up in the gut and intestines and are not passed out of the body as they were in life and this gives the corpse a swollen and bloated appearance. These gases cause the putrefication of the internal organs, turning them first to jelly and then to liquid which will escape from the body via the orifices. This foul smelling liquid will exit via the bowels, bladder, mouth,ears, nose and even the eyes.

This is an absolutely horrendous sight and the smell is something you will never, ever forget. The thought of having this play out with one body is bad, with lots of bodies it is unthinkable.

Animals and flies smell a corpse at a good distance and will come from miles around if attracted by the stench of many corpses. Dogs, cats, rats, birds and flies will all make their way to the site, to them it is a meal nothing more or less. This will of course dispose of the bodies, but you then have to deal with a plague of vermin, which carry many diseases in their own right as well as anything they may have picked up from the bodies, flies which are excellent disease carriers, as well as packs of dogs roaming around looking for their next meal. I won’t even get into the problems that a bear or two could cause. So, what do you do?

I know there are options like burial at sea if you are right on the coast and may be sky burial, letting the vultures feed if you are high in the mountains, but for all practical purposes it really comes down to two options, burial or cremation.

Unless you have access to a mechanized digger, JCB, backhoe something like that digging mass graves is going to be hugely labour intensive and is going to require a fair chunk of land, particularly if it is going to be an ongoing situation. If the cause of the deaths is illness, for example in a pandemic situation that is so bad the government is not collecting the bodies burial could be dangerous as some pathogens are perfectly able to live on in the soil for a considerable amount of time. In a situation where animals are starving there is a possibility that bodies could be dug up. It is not a viable option if the ground is frozen meaning the bodies will have to stored until the ground thaws. Once again this will attract animals that have no problem eating frozen meat.

Open cremation is still practiced in many cultures. It is far less labor intensive and has the advantage that germs and disease are destroyed. As people across the world who have used fire to destroy evidence of crimes have found, bodies do not burn that well.

In order to cremate a body you need high heat and good airflow for a considerable amount of time. To achieve this there will ideally be some kind of platform for the bodies to rest on with the fire built underneath this, and then combustible material placed on and around the bodies. If a reusable platform can be built all the better. Piles of bricks or rubble criss-crossed with metal posts or beams, or a metal bed frame would be one way of saving precious fuel, a pyre for multiple bodies is going to take a great deal of it. Regardless of how you construct your pyre the bodies need to be well off the ground or they will not combust effectively, there has to be good airflow all around to get anywhere near complete combustion.

A variation of the Dakota fire pit, whilst more labor intensive than a simple pyre will save very considerably on the amount of fuel used, and it is re-usable, an important consideration if the cremation is likely not going to be a one off.

The pit itself should be three feet deep, at least six feet wide and eight feet long. It would be too much of an undertaking for an individual, but a group of people working together would be able to reap the benefits of using less fuel and having a reusable ‘crematorium’. Holes from the base of the pit should be dug at an angle up to the surface, bits of pipe can be put in to avoid collapse if required. There should be an air hole every 12-18 inches around the edge of the pit the bottom of the hole should have non-combustible materials spaced out around it and the fire should be built on top of this, and the bodies should be placed on top of the fire, one deep, across the length of the pit. Another layer of combustible material should be added and accelerant poured on top of this. A second layer of bodies can then be put on top with more fuel and accelerant, this time the accelerant going on first. The fire should be lit near each one of the air holes to ensure it spreads evenly and burns hot. Obviously the bigger the pit the more bodies can be disposed of in one go. Once cooled the pit an be emptied of ash and used again.

Whichever method you use stand upwind. The smell of burning flesh is not pleasant and there can be particulate matter in the air that is harmful. Bodies that are cremated move and contract, giving them what pathologists call ‘the pugilistic pose’ the legs bend at the knees and the arms come up, fists clenches as if taking up a boxing stance. This is normal, but is often accompanied by popping sounds as the muscles contract in the heat. Depending on the amount of gases built up in the bodies there is a risk that some may explode, the same with skulls that are exposed to extreme heat.


ALWAYS handle bodies whilst wearing protective gear, this may be nothing more than rubber boots, mask, gloves and safety goggles but it is important to protect yourself at all times. Disposable painters coveralls with the boots, mask, goggles and gloves would be a safer option. All abrasions, cuts and scratches should be covered before handling the dead.

This is not a pleasant subject, but if as we believe some kind of societal collapse is going to occur it is something we need to think about, and as always, plan for.

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Contributed by Lizzie Bennett of Underground Medic.

Lizzie Bennett retired from her job as a senior operating department practitioner in the UK earlier this year. Her field was trauma and accident and emergency and she has served on major catastrophe teams around the UK. Lizzie publishes Underground Medic on the topic of preparedness.

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  • SKIP

    While near PnomPhen, Cambodia in the late 60 I saw so many bodies on the North road that the officials couldn’t deal with them in a timely fashion. A worker was walking along pushing one of those cart things like used to mark a football field full of lime and had a large can on the end of a stick with holes in the bottom to scoop and sprinkle lime on the corpses and another stick with a knife blade on the end to poke holes in the bodies..Like the author says, a smell you will never forget and the sight is not to be forgotten either.

    • Growing up on a farm and in the country all of my life, you learn to bury your dead pets quickly. If the ground is dry, it’s much harder to dig a hole deep enough, so…..when the animal is placed in the hole, put a couple of pails of wood ash, or lime, on top of the animal. It helps to take down the odor, dries the body out quicker, and keeps critters away from the grave. I hate to think of it, but the situation could occur in this country if all goes to hell. We are better off if we are prepared for the worst but hopefully never need it.

  • Michael

    You know; personally i’m tired of hearing about the doom and gloom that seems to never come and although I have been preparing, not one person has any idea if and when the preverbial shit will hit the fan. Frankly, i’m growing tired of hearing it. No one seems to have a solution to our problems and my solution has always been to organize but I never received any support or responses from the online community. Could there be bodies in the street rotting and decaying? Sure. I guess so. But I doubt if we ever see it in this lifetime. TPTB are going to milk this shit for as long as we continue to let them until someone decides to make a serious move.

    • Row Weil

      Your comment just made me have a good thinkin’ about the problem of “Can we do more than TALK abut how the SGHTF? What can we do to start solving it?”.

      Too often, we (the ‘Black Sheep’) see SHTF coming, and try to express this to other people, but without an imminent threat, they (nervously) laugh it off and ignore it. I suggest this is the wrong way of going about things – people don’t want motivated by fear, and the ESPECIALLY do not want to live in fear without hearing of possible solution to the identified problems. (You notice at the end of those discussions, the White sheep always says “Okay, so what’s the solution” – this is where preppers always come back a little weak…)

      So, I think that in order to be more effective at spreading social repair and/or preparedness, the Black Sheep need to:

      1) Have positive examples of where Prepping-type activities have *already* benefited them.

      2) Spread these productive activities to White Sheep one-at-a time. They will see the difference between the decaying work of the flock and the living world outside of it.

      3) Once they see the difference between the two worldviews, they will naturally begin to inquire about the problems with the flock.

      4) **THEN** (and we should talk more about this, because it’s where the rubber REALLY meets the road) we should have a plan for actually (legally, by popular pressure, whatever) identifying and throwing off our oppressors.

    • laura m.

      Michael I agree. I’m a retiree and habve heard this for decades. Some of my prepper friends are in the cemetary and all their prepping was in vain. The heirs tossed everything except guns and silver, etc. I prep some, but am more interested in a real solution and patriot groups argue and bicker thus I’m not a joiner or attend meetings. I don’t support any group, but endorse Oath Keepers.

  • Mavrick

    I would have never thought about lifting the bodies above the fire and would have made a mess. I guess I am just not a fire bug.

    As far as the doom and gloom part, information is invaluable even if you dont ever need it. Kind of like a gun or extra water and food. Personally I dont think you have that much more time to wait before needing your resources and knowledge. The fall has been slow and steady but is increasing in speed. As with any decent, once momentum takes over SHTF soon enough.

  • Jack

    Thank you Lizzie,

    An unpleasant, but necessary, topic handled in a most reverent way. Most have never experienced death in any other than a sanitised, funereal way. I have. It has no resemblance to the wave the hands over the face and the eyes close cinema fantasy. It is very real, quite permanent (on all levels, to all involved) and horribly unpleasant. May God keep us from it, but this cup shall not pass, so may we find the strength to respectfully care for our departed.

  • Locus

    Upwind you mean. Nice treatment of the most gruesome aspect.

    The problem is that in the open air — or even in shallow pits — nature’s process does not scale large or fast enough render large amounts of carrion in a way we can endure healthfully. It must be accelerated.

    Some respectful yet necessary engineering is called for.

    The thought of some gigantic funeral pyre is comforting but the essay seems to be set in a scenario where there are hundreds of thousands or even millions to dispose of. Bodies are mostly water and difficult to burn completely — unless rendered completely to ash you will still be left with exposed carrion — new bacteria moves in, same disposal problem. And the fuel for this massive pyre would be better spent to help the living cope with Winter.

    In the developed world no pits need be dug however. You would need to consult a topo map and find several existing buildings that are downwind of the main areas, elevated from the low flood plains or natural valleys/watersheds… buildings with large parking garages, basements or cisterns whose floors, walls and ceiling is poured concrete (no wood!) .

    Those basements could serve as makeshift tombs. First seal all cracks, utility conduits and drainage sumps with mortar to seal the structure as best you can. Expose and seal any drain or sewer plumbing that leads into city mains.

    Fill to the top with bodies and sprinkle some hundreds of gallons of active sludge gathered from a nearby cesspit or sewer plant to introduce anaerobic bacteria which will accelerate the process.

    Seal the structure except for a singe vertical pipe. At ground level of the pipe place a filter of wire mesh, charcoal and anything that lets gasses escape and keeps insects out. This filter will need to be inspected and changed occasionally. Extend the pipe ~20′ into the air and cap/reduce it to a long copper tube with a nozzle at the end. Once the process gets underway you will want to light this to burn off the methane that is produced for awhile. Raze the building to ground level and cover with dirt.

    In this way the dead should not bring pestilence or harm to the living and will in time be able to rejoin the earth cycle with the greatest dignity possible.

    • Locus,
      Thank you, I have had the typo corrected .


  • Danny Lee

    If dealing with a member of your group in the wintertime with frozen ground all you have to do to thaw the soil is to build a fire in the proper spot and keep it going long enough to thaw the ares and then dig the grave.

    • Jack

      Still the common practice. A sheet of steel and charcoal. But, fuel WILL be more useful for the living…

  • Cnsay

    thanks lizzie, i just burned my porterhouse steak on the grill! LoL.

  • In a vision from the LORD,there had been a great flood,the lord said we would need to travel to the ocean for food,we live in colorado,we traveled over fields of mud for 2 days,when we got to the ocean inlet,there was a two masted sail boat out in the middle of the inlet,BUT as we stood on the beach,the dead bodies went out everywhere for 300ft. thousands of them,all the way around the inlet,we used a dead horse to float out to the boat on and the smell was beyond belief,we lived on the boat, 15 of us and fished for food….we were straving when we got to the coast,I’am sure there had been a full pole shift of the planet,we traveled about 30 miles from where we were hiding at….when we ran out of food…………………….

  • Tatiana Covington

    First, strip off the valuables, incl. any gold fillings. Second, just drag the bodies as far away as possible and then leave them. Nature will handle it from that point on.