Burials come in all sorts of variety, although the primary perception is that they are found within the ground. Regardless of the methods of treatment to the body, there is some belief that the bodies will be finally buried. However, there are three specific practices which break this norm: the cliff burials of Cambodia, the hanging burials of China, and the scaffold burials of North America. All three of these burials types elevate bodies instead of burying them.
Recently, National Geographic released an article and pictures of a variety of cliff burials. The burials were found in the cliffs of Cambodia, and date from 1395 to 1650 CE. The burials are not yet attributed with any tribe in particular and its relationship to other cultural groups in this period is unknown. The remains are found in two types of containers, body jars or cliff coffins. The jars are large ceramic containers, and coffins are small wooden containers. Neither of these are large enough to hold an entire body, which means the remains were either left to decay and then placed in the containers, or were dismembered and placed within. It is unknown what method was used since the article doesn’t detail this. Ten of these sites have been discovered so far in this area with the same type of burial pattern. Hopefully future study will reveal more details and a summary of how the data compares between the sites. Since we do not know anything about the broader cultural patterns, we cannot interpret why they chose this type of burial or what meaning it has. The archaeologists only suggest that the location of the burials on perilous steep cliff sides would prevent both animals and other people from disturbing the burials.
The Bo people of southern China hang coffins from cliff sides. The coffins come in various shapes, but are primarily carved from a single piece of wood. The coffins are placed on beams which project outward from vertical faces of mountains, or in natural caves or projections. The height of the coffin ranges from 10 to 300 meters high. They argue that the placement of the bodies on the cliffs both prevents animals from disturbing the remains and blesses the souls. There is little known about the culture except that they flourished from the 13th to 17th centuries. While there used to be hundreds of coffins along the cliffs, there are only about 100 left. Recently the government has begun to repair and maintain the remaining coffins to protect them from degrading. During the process they were able to learn more about the burials. They found silk, textiles, ceramics and metal knives within the unpainted coffins. There is still a lot to be learned about the culture, although for now they are going to focus on maintaining the coffins.
The final elevated burial type are the scaffold burials from North America. The Sioux, Ute, and Navajo Indians used platforms to raise the dead closer to the sky. They were either placed in trees or on scaffolds that they constructed. They often placed buckets of food and water on poles on the scaffolds. Toys were left with dead children, while weapons and clothing were buried with adults. The burials vary by age, gender and status. Chiefs usually were placed higher in the tree, while squaws and children were placed in lower trees and sometimes even bushes. The natives argue that the souls of the deceased linger in the air and watch over the tribe until it is time to move on. By placing the individuals in the trees or on scaffolds the soul is closer to the air and able to leave the body faster.
Owen. 2012. Cliff Coffins are Clue to Unknown Tribe. National Geographic. http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2012/05/pictures/120515-cambodia-burials-body-jars-log-coffins-science/
Cultural China. Mysterious cliff burials. http://traditions.cultural-china.com/en/214T11901T14559.html
Good. 2009. Native american tree burials. http://www.helium.com/items/1500887-tree-burial