FACT:  Grave digging: How deep must it be?

Several times a year, FCA-GKC receives an inquiry about the grave depths required for human remains and cremation ashes. As our ancestors populated Missouri and Kansas, farms were the normal burial sites. These sites are still around and some remain active. The grave in these private cemeteries should be deep enough to provide about two feet of earth on top of the burial container, according to regulations in Missouri and Kansas. The grave must be a minimum of 150 feet from a potable water supply. The Green Burial Council suggests a depth of 3.5 feet. This exposes the body to microbes living within three feet of the land’s surface, thus enhancing its decomposition.

Burial depths in standard cemeteries vary according to policy, but most require depths of five or six feet. The greater depths allow for the possibility of a second burial on top. The burial depth term “six feet under” was a practice mandated in the 1600s in England during a plague to prevent the spread of infection. Burial depths for cremation ashes vary widely in accordance with local cemetery policies. Three feet is a commonly required depth. The scattering of ashes also is a common memorializing practice. In general, ashes may be scattered just about anywhere with the permission of property owners. Even without permission, the act is often carried out by families adhering to their own “don’t ask, don’t tell” license, reasoning that the ashes are harmless and invisible. 

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