A preferred method of dealing with departed loved ones in several cultures. Bodies, rather than being embalmed and buried or cremated, are placed out in the open, often on a platform, where the flesh withers away, or is torn off by animals. The cleaned bones are later collected and interred.

Archaeologists had long puzzled over the purpose of the long barrows in southeastern England, built by the same Megalithic culture that had built Stonehenge. The crypts built into the end of each barrow, filled with bones, gave a clue as to the purpose of the mound, but the causeways running along the crests of the barrows had remained a mystery. That is, until partial human remains dating from Megalithic times were discovered in the barrow. These turned out to be one half of a dead body carried off by an ancient vulture for an uninterrupted meal.

In Persia, contemporaneous with Megalithic England, Zoroaster founded a monotheistic religion based upon an eternal struggle between Ahura Mazda (God) and Ahriman (the Devil). The Vendidad taught that heaven was up in the sky, hell in the ground. Not only that, nasu or dead matter was "unclean" and should not be allowed to pollute the sacred elements of fire and water. Thus, burial or cremation was, literally, a fate worse than death for the departed, and a grave sin for the burier. Zoroastrians laid their dead out in towers specially built for the purpose, facing the sun.

Excarnation appears to have been practiced by several other cultures prior to the spread of Christianity and Islam: ancient Anatolians, Bulgars, Rus, Alans, early Saxons, and the Anasazi. Zoroastrians, Tibetans and several Native American tribes still practice this today.

Ex`car*na"tion (?), n.

The act of depriving or divesting of flesh; excarnification; -- opposed to incarnation.


© Webster 1913.

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