Fact or Fiction: Coffins and Caskets

Staff

"Coffin" is the preferred term for burial receptacles in the American funeral industry.

In general, the American funeral industry actually frowns on the word "coffin" as being too melancholy and detrimental to sales.

The words "coffin" and "casket" both referred at one time to types of baskets.

In their Latin and Greek roots, both "coffin" and "casket" at one time referred to baskets or boxes for jewelry.

A coffin prevents a deceased body from decaying.

A coffin may slow the decay process, but it will not keep a body intact forever. In fact, the funeral industry is prohibited from making such claims.

Cremation ovens are powerful enough to break down even metal coffins.

Cremation ovens cannot break down metal coffins, a fact that became inconvenient when sales of metal coffins soared during what funeral expert Jessica Mitford refers to as the "anti-cheapie" movement in America during the mid-20th century.

American culture puts more emphasis on elaborate coffins than English and Australian cultures do.

English and Australian coffins tend to be more simple (and less expensive) than American coffins. Cremation rates in England are also higher than cremation rates in America.

The hanging coffins of the Bo people in China date back to as early as 770 B.C.

Some of these coffins are more than 2,000 years old. The most recent hanging coffin is thought to date back to about 400 years ago.

The Bo people probably chose to place hanging coffins in high-up caves and on cliffs to protect their dead from enemies.

The Bo actually buried their loved ones high up because they believed it brought the deceased closer to the deities.

The Jewish faith dictates that coffins should be as opulent as the deceased's family can afford.

The Jewish faith actually dictates that the deceased be buried in a plain pine box in order to eliminate class and socioeconomic distinctions.

The Ghanain people bury their dead in coffins that are decorated to reflect the deceased's interests or career.

For example, a businessman might be buried in a coffin resembling a luxury car, or a fisherman in a coffin shaped like a fish.

Body snatchers broke into graves in order to steal any valuables a body might have been buried with.

Body snatchers actually dug up graves to steal bodies for medical research.

During the body snatching era, families who could not afford precautions like iron cages and guards for family members' gravesites sometimes filled their loved ones' graves with stones to deter body snatchers.

If a body snatcher attempted to break into the grave, the stones would make enough noise to alert guards or passersby.

A coffin with a permeable seal is safer than one with an impermeable seal.

An impermeable seal will cause methane gas to build up in the coffin as the body decays; if the gas is not allowed to leak out, the coffin can explode.

Taphophobia is the diagnosed fear of vampires.

Taphophobia is actually the fear of being buried alive and can stem for early experiences of being trapped in small spaces.

According to ancient Egyptian beliefs, the Egyptian Coffin Texts, which evolved from the Pyramid Text, allowed all Egyptian people access to spells that would help them pass into the afterlife.

The Pyramid Text was only accessible by royalty, but the Coffin Texts were open to people of all classes.

The Egyptian Coffin Texts represent the first known description of a culture's cosmology.

The Book of Two Ways, a section within the Egyptian Coffin Texts, details a cosmology (that is, a description of the universe) involving both a land and a sea path through the heavens that spirits could travel during the afterlife.

Vampire lore holds that vampires remain stiff and cold while sleeping in coffins during the day, and then reanimate at night.

Vampires are actually said to look very much alive while asleep in coffins.

Some cultures believe that it is preferable to go into debt as opposed to giving a family member a cheap or substandard funeral.

Members of many African and Asian cultures will choose to go into debt if it means providing a deceased loved one with an appropriate and honorable funeral.

The word pall can refer to both a cloth draped over a coffin and a general feeling of gloom.

Pall can also be a verb meaning "to weaken."

King Tutankhamen, more commonly known as King Tut, was interred in three caskets.

The most common and recognizable image of King Tut shows the gold- and jewel-plated portrait of the young Pharaoh on the outermost coffin.

If a body is being cremated, most families choose not to purchase a coffin.

Special particleboard or cardboard coffins are used for the cremation of a body; if a family chooses to hold a viewing before the cremation, a more aesthetic rented or purchased coffin encloses the cremation coffin that is removed prior to cremation.

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About This Quiz

We read about them in books and see them on the silver screen, but what's the real deal on coffins? Test your knowledge of the realities and myths that surround these creepy containers with this fact-or-fiction quiz.

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