Mar 11, 2015 I Nick Redfern

Night of the Living Coffins

If there is one thing that can be said with certainty about the human race, it is that each and every one of us is on a time limit. Not to be gloomy about it, but sooner or later - and hopefully the latter - we will all shuffle off this mortal coil. And, after the bucket has finally been kicked, there are two primary options available when it comes to the type of send off we receive. One is cremation and the other is burial in a coffin.

But, have you ever wondered why coffins have locks on them? Is it, perhaps, due to age-old superstitions and fears that the dead might actually awaken and try to rise from the grimy grave? After all, locking a corpse inside a coffin that is six feet underground makes no sense at all. Or does it? It just might, if there is a fear that the very same corpse may try and force its way to the surface, in a definitively nightmarish Night of the Living Dead or The Plague of the Zombies style.

Traditions of showing respect to the dead, by doing something beyond simply dumping their bodies for wild animals to feed upon, date back thousands of years. In ancient Egypt, for example, the elite, the rich, and the powerful were carefully wrapped in cloth and placed in a sarcophagus. In Europe, even when civilization was in its infancy, there was an understanding that death was something to honor.

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King Tutankhamun's lifesize sarcophagus cabinet.

The Neanderthals knew that, too - and tens of thousands of years ago, no less. Similarly, ancient Celtic warriors, warlords and kings were placed in coffin-like creations comprised of carefully positioned rocks and stones. In the United States, the coffin industry very much - and unfortunately quite understandably - came to the fore at the height of the American Civil War of 1861 to 1865, in which hundreds of thousands of people lost their lives during the carnage of conflict.

Now, onto the matter of why, exactly, today's coffins are firmly sealed from the outside. The idea that it is done to prevent the zombified dead from digging their way out may entertain and excite fans of the dead who don't stay dead for very long, but it is actually far from being the case.

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The London Burkers

In centuries past, such practices were done to prevent grave-robbing - which was absolutely rife in the United Kingdom, and particularly so in the 19th century. Take, for example, the London Burkers. They were a team of London-based body-snatchers that stole dozens of fresh corpses from graves throughout the nation's capital during the period in question - all for money, of course.

A further, and equally understandable, reason for keeping the lid on a coffin is to ensure that if, in a worst case scenario, the coffin is dropped on its way to burial, the corpse does not tumble out in front of shocked, grieving mourners.

And, finally, contrary to popular belief, the coffin is not actually locked - at least, not in the fashion that most people might assume. It is simply sealed with what is called a gasket. Securely fastening the gasket helps prevent water from entering the coffin after it has been placed in the ground. The coffin and the gasket, therefore, are all about respect for the dead, rather than being based upon age-old fears that the recently deceased might rise from the grave and start attacking and chewing down on the terrified living.

Of course, in the event that a real-life zombie pandemic does one day occur, many will surely sigh with relief that they chose to have their loved ones placed inside a sealed coffin!

Nick Redfern

Nick Redfern works full time as a writer, lecturer, and journalist. He writes about a wide range of unsolved mysteries, including Bigfoot, UFOs, the Loch Ness Monster, alien encounters, and government conspiracies. Nick has written 41 books, writes for Mysterious Universe and has appeared on numerous television shows on the The History Channel, National Geographic Channel and SyFy Channel.

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