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The startup that turns human ashes into diamonds | Challengers by Freethink

Throughout history, people have disposed of corpses in many ways. Tombs and mounds dating from prehistoric times can be found across the world, often containing both skeletal remains and personal effects. Cremation, the act of reducing corpses to ash and dust, was practiced from the bowels of ancient Rome to the outskirts of East Asia. Immediately reserved for the upper classes, some of the most impressive pieces of architecture ever constructed originally serving as graves for important figures.

Although these three methods are the most common, they are not the only ones available to us. In Mumbai, Zoroastrian communities used to place their corpses on top of towers to be withered by the elements and eaten by crows. The Scandinavian Vikings died as they lived, sailing the vast oceans with ceremonial burials at sea. During World War II, the Nazis and the Soviets waged war against entire populations and ethnicities, burying their victims in pits anonymous municipalities.

Some people, communities, and businesses still viewed death and death from different angles. Instead of preparing loved ones for a hypothetical afterlife, they wondered how the dead could be of service to the here and now. From composting human remains to sending relatives into space, there are many unorthodox but meaningful ways to say goodbye to a corpse, each with their own historical and spiritual significance.

Automatic icons

A staunch utilitarian, British philosopher Jeremy Bentham did not consider the idea of ​​his corpse being burned or buried when it could still be of use to the living. In his will and testimony, which he wrote just a week before his death in 1832, he asked a friend to donate his organs to science so that they could be dissected and studied – a decision the The medical community greatly appreciated it, considering how difficult it was to acquire fresh corpses at the time.

But Bentham didn’t stop there. After his bowels were removed, he requested that his skeleton and head – embalmed and mummified to prevent damage – be dressed in his ordinary clothes and arranged in a position resembling the one people had known him in life. : seated on a chair, staff in hand, with an attitude clearly suggesting that he was “engaged in thinking”. To this day, Bentham’s body is on display in a display case near the entrance to the University College London Student Center.

While writing, Bentham began to refer to the quest to preserve his characteristics even in death as the “automatic icon”. On the one hand, becoming an auto-icon allowed the philosopher to preserve his heritage for years after his death. On the other hand, he may have wanted to inspire his contemporaries to donate their bodies to science as well. In the deeply religious but slowly advancing era in which Bentham lived, his unusual plight was seen both as an insult to God and a means of using scientific understanding to conquer death.

Quasibiological organisms

Chances are, Bentham was disappointed to know that his preserved body is only partially genuine. Under the right conditions, human bones can be preserved for hundreds or even thousands of years. Soft tissues, on the other hand, disintegrate in less than half a century. After a failed attempt to mummify Bentham’s head, his skin quickly stretched and discolored. Once it had lost all resemblance to the original person, it was replaced with a wax replica.

The perfect preservation of soft tissues is an art that we, despite our modern technology, do not yet master. That said, Russian scientists have been quite close in their efforts to preserve Vladimir Lenin’s body. On Red Square in Moscow, tourists can find a grave containing the body of the famous 151-year-old revolutionary. After his death at the age of 53 from a cerebral hemorrhage, Lenin’s remains were kept to serve as inspiration for future generations of Soviets.

“Scientists have spent a century perfecting preservation techniques that maintain the look, feel and flexibility of Lenin’s body,” Jeremy Hsu said in American scientist. Today, a specialized team of anatomists, biochemists and surgeons from the Moscow Center for Scientific Research and Teaching of Biochemical Methods are focused on preserving its shape but not its original biological material, creating a “quasibiological” body that combines skin tissue with plastics. This method has also been used to preserve the bodies of other world leaders like Ho Chi Minh.

Alkaline hydrolysis

Although the means by which individual cultures dispose of their bodies have varied considerably throughout history, the concept of dignity has been central to almost all of them. Destroying or preserving a body in a dignified manner was not only a way for the living to pay homage to the dead, but also for the dead to face the afterlife with their heads held high and shoulders square. However, as belief in the afterlife waned, the emphasis on dignity gradually gave way to other things, such as a growing concern for the environment.

For years, activists have campaigned for more environmentally friendly alternatives to burial and cremation. One green alternative they’ve rallied around is alkaline hydrolysis, a process by which bodies are dissolved into a strong chemical base. While it may sound like serial killers like John Haigh, alkaline hydrolysis remains a perfectly legal, albeit somewhat unpopular, practice in nineteen US states. In 2007, around 1,000 people chose to be eliminated in this way.


A slightly less controversial but equally green alternative exists in the form of composting. Sometimes referred to as natural organic reduction (NOR), composting was first legalized in Washington in 2019. Once human remains are naturally broken down by fungi and bacteria, the nutrient-rich soil can be used for gardens. loved ones. Since returning to the earth is an important aspect of burial and cremation, it’s no surprise that composting is slowly gaining in popularity.

Space burials

The very first person to be “buried” in space was Eugene Shoemaker, a pioneer in planetary science whose remains were carried aboard NASA’s Lunar Prospector spacecraft and scattered across the surface of the moon. The shoemaker’s burial saw the birth of an industry for explorers eager to follow in his footsteps. Two companies, Elysium Space and Celestis, have been in operation for several years and specialize in delivering human remains to destinations throughout the solar system.

“If you have lost someone you love, you can look up into the sky every night and feel the honor and respect you have given your loved one,” welcomes visitors to the Celestis website. “Paid” is a rather apt choice of word, since space burial is not exactly cheap. While sending ashes along a two-minute orbit costs an ordinary burial on an old Earth, funerals on the moon or beyond tend to be a bit more expensive. According to Slate, tickets for a full-fledged space trip can cost up to $ 12,500 per person.

Paying an arm and a leg to send a corpse into space might sound a bit absurd, but it does make sense if you think about it. For our modern society, space serves the same purpose as the afterlife for past civilizations. It’s – in a sense – the final new frontier, the start of a terrifying but thrilling journey into the unknown, and the more affordable space exploration becomes, the more commonplace alien funerals will become in the future.

From ashes to diamonds

As mentioned, cremation remains one of the most common methods of disposing of bodies, and although the machinery involved in this process has continued to evolve, the basic concept has remained more or less the same, that is – ie until now. After receiving the backup of Shark aquariumMark Cuban, a death care start-up called Etterneva, has started offering services that can turn people’s ashes into diamond rings, replacing the age-old urn and reinventing the way humans cry.

After losing a close friend in 2015, Adella Archer, co-founder of Eterneva, learned how to extract carbon molecules from cremated human remains and compress them into real diamonds. Its business model does not consist in creating a fashionable product but in reestablishing the links between the living and the deceased. Each diamond is handmade and tailored to the recipient, ensuring that the stones are as special and unique as the individuals from whom they were created. (See the video at the top of this article.)

By investigating the emotional impact diamonds can have on the grieving experience, a team of researchers from Baylor University found that Eterneva can help people cope with grief. Customers, when interviewed, frequently express their joy at being able to carry their pet or family member wherever they go. They also believe that diamonds, being more aesthetic than urns, better represent the beauty that radiated from loved ones while they were still alive.