Cremation is a method of final disposition of a dead body through burning. It serves as an alternative to traditional burial and is a practice that dates back thousands of years across different cultures. In modern times, cremation is commonly carried out in a closed furnace called a cremator at a crematorium. The cremated remains, known as ashes or cremains, are then given to the deceased’s family.
While cremation is becoming an increasingly popular option, myths and misconceptions still persist about what happens to a body during the process. One of the most persistent urban legends is that dead bodies can scream or make other noises during cremation. This idea understandably evokes unease and fuels people’s fears about being cremated while still alive.
So do dead bodies really scream during cremation? The short answer is no. However, bodies can make some noises that have led to this myth. Let’s take a closer look at the cremation process, the science behind it, and common myths to understand the facts.
Overview of the Cremation Process
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Cremation takes place in a cremation chamber or retort, which is a furnace capable of producing very high heat, up to 1800°F to 2000°F. The intense temperature vaporizes the body’s soft tissues and reduces the bones to brittle fragments. The process usually takes 2-3 hours. Here are the basic steps:
- The body is placed in a combustible container or casket that is then loaded into the cremation chamber.
- The chamber is sealed shut. Jets release intense flames and heat to incinerate the container and body.
- After a cool-down period, the cremains are collected. Bone fragments are processed into ashes.
- The ashes are placed into an urn or returned to the family.
Modern crematories have advanced filtration systems to control emissions. The chambers are closely monitored throughout the process. Operators know exactly what is happening inside to prevent issues.
Do Bodies Make Noise During Cremation?
While deceased bodies do not scream, moan, or make other vocal sounds during cremation, some popping and hissing noises can occur. Here’s why:
- As the body burns, water and fats evaporate from the tissues causing popping sounds.
- The heat makes air in the lungs and throat expand, which can force air through the vocal cords creating groans or hisses.
- Joints and bones shifting against each other under heat and weight of the body can cause sounds.
These noises do not indicate pain or distress as all bodily sensations and functions have ceased. The sounds are simply physics at work, not expressions of suffering.
Common Myths and Misconceptions
Let’s examine some other common myths about cremation and the facts behind them:
Myth: Bodies sit up, explode, or burst open during cremation.
Fact: Modern cremators are designed to safely break down bodies. Explosions or body parts repositioning does not occur.
Myth: The skull explodes releasing brain matter.
Fact: The skull does not explode and the brain is vaporized early in the process.
Myth: Hair and nails continue growing on the corpse.
Fact: Any perceived growth is skin shrinking from dehydration and pulling away hair and nails.
Myth: People can wake up and feel pain during cremation.
Fact: It is impossible to regain consciousness or feel pain after death.
Myth: Pacemakers explode, damaging equipment.
Fact: Pacemakers are removed prior to cremation and do not explode.
Myth: Other people’s remains get mixed up with the ashes.
Fact: Identifiers stay with the body at all times, making mix-ups extremely rare.
What Really Happens Inside the Cremator?
To better understand why dead bodies do not scream or make intentional sounds during cremation, let’s look at the changes the body undergoes as the process unfolds:
- 2 minutes in: The container ignites and collapses. The body begins burning, drying out, and the skin bubbles and splits open.
- 10 minutes in: The organs, soft tissues, and fat burn away or vaporize. The muscles begin contracting.
- 20-30 minutes: The bones start charring and cracking into smaller fragments. The contents of the skull vaporize.
- 1 hour in: All soft tissues are destroyed. The bones continue breaking down becoming brittle.
- 2+ hours in: Only bone fragments and ash remain. The cremains are ready for processing.
Throughout the cremation, the body makes sizzling and popping sounds as fluids evaporate and bones shift and crack under the heat and weight. But the lungs, vocal cords, and brain which enable screaming and moaning are destroyed early on.
The pugilistic stance, where arms and legs flex as if fighting, sometimes occurs. But this is due to muscles contracting through heat rather than conscious movement. Violent movements do not occur.
Cremation Is a Safe and Efficient Process
Modern crematories are designed to completely destroy bodies in a dignified manner. The chambers reach extremely high temperatures fueled by gas or electricity to ensure thorough incineration. The process is efficiently managed by trained operators.
While urban legends of dead bodies screaming or sitting up during cremation persist, the reality is that bodies do not make such violent movements or vocalizations. Some minor noises can emanate from the movements of joints and the release of gases. But these are normal occurrences, not signs of life or suffering.
In most cases, the deceased’s family can observe the initial body placement to provide reassurance. Viewing is not allowed during the cremation itself for safety and practical reasons. However operators constantly monitor the process through computer systems and observation windows.
Cremation is a safe, efficient, and environmentally friendly method to honor the dead. While myths continue to shroud the process in mystery, education on the science behind it can help dispel misinformation. Knowing what truly happens brings understanding and eases unnecessary fears.