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past half century. That category of cause of death was eliminated in 1951. Now everyone must die “from” something. There is only one real cause of death, oxygen starvation. The cause of death on death certificates is really the cause of the cause, the cause of cell death due to oxygen starvation. The practice of burying the dead goes back at least 350,000 years. A site in Atapuerca, Spain, 45 feet below the surface, held 27 hominids. These are likely of the species Homo heidelbergensis, a possible common ancestor of both Neanderthals and modern humans. One study turned up at least 200 English euphemisms for death, including “to be in Abraham’s bosom” and “just add maggots.” I have no idea if the latter is shortened to JAM, but I would be surprised if I was the first to notice. A favourite of Star Trek fans is to “sleep with the Tribbles.” We all know that bacteria and other microorganisms eat dead flesh, and TV murder fans know that one kind of fly begins to lay its eggs in or on the body of a dead person within minutes of death. It seems to be less well known that the intestinal enzymes that help us to digest our food when we are alive begin to digest the rest of our body within three days of death. Cells that rupture after death become attractive food for bacteria that live in our gut. (It is estimated that our bodies are really symbionts, as more microorganisms live within us in symbiotic relationships with our body cells—we can’t exist without them—than we have of our own body cells.) Bodies of people that drown or are thrown into water after being killed, then remain in that water, become bloated with noxious gas and float to the surface. This explains why most drowning deaths eventually produce dead bodies at the surface of the water. The eyes tend to bulge out with the rest of the bloating, giving rise to the bulging eyes we see in Halloween masks or scary movies. While we may think that only pharaohs and rich nobles were mummified in ancient Egypt, mummification was more popular than that. During the building of a railway in Egypt during the late 19th century, unearthed mummies were so common that they were used as fuel for locomotives. Every museum around the world who wanted a mummy could buy one cheap. During the First World War, Egyptian mummies were shipped to European countries where they were unwrapped and the cloth used like paper during the paper shortage. The rest of the bodies were burned as fuel.
All of our body cells are programmed to commit suicide at the right time so that they can be flushed and replaced with new cells. As we age, not enough new cells form and the DNA strands in the cells that do become shorter. Which DNA information gets lost from the ends of DNA strands varies, according to recent studies, but you may be able to make some astute guesses. Some body cells commit suicide before we are born. If they didn’t, we would all be born with webbed feet, like ducks (with webbing between the toes, as a surprisingly large number of people have—about one in ten). That prehensile tail you have heard about that forms on embryos during the second trimester is consumed well before the time of birth— that is, before the embryo is “viable.” That Massachusetts doctor who weighed a body immediately before death, in 1907, then weighed it immediately after death, to find that the difference was 21 grams (which many have since claimed to be proof of a human soul, or at least the weigh thereof) has been proven to have been mistaken. Some people still maintain that the ultimate breath of a dying person is the one where the soul leaves the body through exhalation. In 19th century Europe, there were so many claims that living people were buried alive because attendants thought they were dead that “hospitals for the dead” were set up to await proof of death (in the form of putrefaction). Most of the stories you have heard about scratch marks on the insides of caskets of people who were dug up days or weeks after death in North America in past centuries are not true. Most originated in the days when unmarried women were accused of being witches, burned at the stake, then buried. Curious folks dug up some and devised the stories to show that witches really could return from the dead. More people commit suicide in New York City each year than are murdered. (When have you read an editorial insisting that something be done about that? I extrapolate from that statistic (through a generalization) that more American citizens commit suicide each year in their own country than are killed in their military in Iraq and Afghanistan.) (Source: most of this came from Discover, September 2006 issue) Bill Allin
Turning It Around: Causes and Cures for Today’s Epidemic Social Problems,
striving to teach the living and stop the killing. Learn more at http://billallin.com