Burial or interment is the ritual act of placing a dead person or animal, sometimes with objects, into the ground. This is accomplished by excavating a pit or trench, placing the deceased and objects in it, and covering it over. Humans have been burying their dead for at least 100,000 years. Burial is often seen as indicating respect for the dead. It has been used to prevent the odor of decay, to give family members closure and prevent them from witnessing the decomposition of their loved ones, and in many cultures it has been seen as a necessary step for the deceased to enter the afterlife or to give back to the cycle of life.
Methods of burial may be heavily ritualized and can include natural burial (sometimes called “green burial”); embalming or mummification; and the use of containers for the dead, such as shrouds, caskets, grave liners, and burial vaults, all of which can retard decomposition of the body. Sometimes objects or grave goods are buried with the body, which may be dressed in fancy or ceremonial garb. Depending on the culture, the way the body is positioned may have great significance.
The location of the burial may be determined taking into account concerns surrounding health and sanitation, religious concerns, and cultural practices. Some cultures keep the dead close to provide guidance to the living, while others “banish” them by locating burial grounds at a distance from inhabited areas. Some religions consecrate special ground to bury the dead, and some families build private family cemeteries. Most modern cultures document the location of graves with headstones, which may be inscribed with information and tributes to the deceased. However, some people are buried in anonymous or secret graves for various reasons. Sometimes multiple bodies are buried in a single grave either by choice (as in the case of married couples), due to space concerns, or in the case of mass graves as a way to deal with many bodies at once.
Alternatives to burial may include cremation, burial at sea, promession, cryopreservation, and others. Some human cultures may bury the remains of beloved animals. Humans are not the only species which bury their dead; the practice has been observed in chimpanzees, elephants, and possibly dogs.