In Eternal Rest: The Longevity of Cremated Remains 

by Get Urns March 26, 2021 6 min read

When we say farewell to a loved one, gaining a thorough understanding of what happens with the remains can help bring peace and closure in our grief. One lasting question for families is regarding the longevity of cremated remains. Although this won’t be a simple answer, your family’s preference for what to do with the ashes of a loved one impacts how long the ashes remain intact or how quickly they are dissolved into the earth.

To fully understand the lifespan of the cremated remains, we’ll take a look at a few different options for the ashes of a loved one.


Cremated Remains Stored in an Urn

One of the most common options families prefer for the cremated ashes of a loved one is to have the ashes permanently stored in a cremation urn. The cremation urns can be a beautiful and meaningful way to memorialize the life and death of a loved one.

Families can pick out the perfect shape, style, and color of a cremation urn. Elegant silver dove cremation urn urns might symbolize flight and freedom and spirit. Butterfly urns might reflect life and rebirth, and bring a feeling of peace to those around it. Some cremation urns can even be engraved with names, dates, and messages of remembrance.

An additional reason why families often choose a cremation urn for the remains is because it has incredible longevity when it comes to how long the cremated remains stay intact. The cremation urns are designed to survive the test of time, as they’re constructed from durable, lasting materials. This includes brass or metal cremation urns, as well as marble, wooden cremation urns, and even stone. These materials, when stored indoors and safe from the elements, will last for decades, safely preserving a loved one’s remains.

When stored safely and securely within a cremation urn, the ashes can remain for centuries. Archeologists and scientists have long discovered artifacts of ancient remains from various civilizations that took part in cremation processes. In fact, they’re still finding cremated ash remains even today. Some of these cremated remains even trace back as far as 7000BC. It has long been a practice across human history because of how various cultures and religions prefer to manage the death and passing of members of their community.

Ultimately, cremated remains that are preserved in a cremation urn can survive for an endless amount of time when stored within a material that has equal longevity. Some families might prefer to utilize a wood cremation urn, which may be more susceptible to environmental elements, especially when left outside. Other cremation urns might be temporary or even biodegradable cremation urns, which would also make them last far less.

 

However, not all families have the same desire to keep the ashes within the family or stored within their own home. Some choose to release the ashes into nature, whether buried in the dirt or released into open waters.

Cremated Remains Buried in the Earth

A family may have a burial plot in a cemetery or a special family vacation spot in the mountains which would lead them to prefer to bury the ashes of a loved one. When it comes to burying the cremated remains of someone deceased, there are a lot of different options for where and how to bury those ashes that might be preferable depending on the final wishes of the individual who has passed away. Regardless of where or how a family elects to bury it, the question is how long will those ashes remain in the earth?

Cremated remains that are buried last far less than ashes that have been stored and preserved in a cremation urn. To understand how long they last, it’s first important to understand what cremation remains are composed of.

For the most part, the ashes that remain after the process of cremation are ground bone fragments. Most of the other elements of the body are completely broken down as the remains are cremated. The bones are not entirely organic material, which means they don’t really decompose entirely into the earth. Bones include organic matter, but they also include the calcified compounds of connective tissue and bone, which consist of inorganic materials.

What this really means is that when you bury cremated remains, they dissolve and break down into the dirt, but never really fully decompose. While you won’t be able to go back in a few years and dig them up because they’ll be mixed in with the soil, the particles will still be in existence. If you bury ashes in a small plot without the coverage of an urn or some type of container, the ashes will be unidentifiable within months, and maybe even weeks depending on the movement of the soil and its composition, as well as the amount of rain that hits the land.

Sometimes, the compounds of the cremated remains can actually harm plant growth nearby, causing local flora to struggle or die. Always be cautious in deciding where to place the ashen remains of a loved one when burying them into the earth. Additionally, some cities and states have statutes regarding where families may or may not bury or release the ash remains. This usually pertains only to public properties or county-owned land, but always check in advance.

Cremated Remains Released Into an Ocean, River, or Lake

The cremation remains that are released into a body of water have even less longevity than those that are buried in the ground. Again, this has to do with the fact that most of the ashes are composed of both organic and inorganic matter, and because the particles are so small.

 

When you release ashes into the water, they often become quickly mixed into the water and seemingly dissolve. Not all of the particles will dissolve completely, due to the inorganic compounds, but the particles are small and almost undetectable when placed into the water.

When you release the ashes into the water, they will often disappear within minutes. They cannot be found again after.

Impact of the Cremation Urn Location

As has been clarified throughout this article, the method of storing cremation remains in an urn is going to bring the most longevity for families looking to keep the remains around for some time. To provide further clarity here is a bit more information regarding the various types of urns and ways to store them in comparison to how long they may last.

  • Biodegradable urns: Biodegradable urns are designed to decompose into the atmosphere. When they are buried, they take weeks or months to break down before the ashes are then integrated into the dirt or soil. When they are placed on water, they will often dissolve quicker, and release the ashes into the water within minutes or hours.
  • Urns stored at home: When a permanent urn, like those made from metal, brass, or stone, is stored within the home, it will preserve the ashes for a long time, decades and decades. Avoid placing them in direct sunlight or near open doors or windows to keep them protected from the elements.
  • Urns stored in a columbarium:  Columbariums are used to store the cremation urns within a cemetery setting. Although this approach keeps the remains moderately sheltered, a combination of humidity/dampness within a mausoleum or exposure to sunlight, wind, rain, and other weather elements will significantly impact the longevity and durability of your urn. If the cremation urn is replaced before breaking down too much to expose the cremation ashes, then the ashes can be preserved for an equally long time. However, if the remains are left in a wooden cremation urn that slowly deteriorates from exposure to the rain, it will form leaks and thus expose the ashes to the outdoor elements. The urn will likely last for a number of years before needing to be replaced, but won’t last as long as those kept indoors without exposure to the elements.
  • Cremation jewelryCremation Jewelry is another way to store the cremated ashes of a family member or loved one who has passed away. A small pinch of ashes can be placed inside the center of the cremation jewelry, safely housing them for many years. As long as the necklace is cared for properly, as one would with any fine jewelry, the ashes remain intact for decades.

 

Preserving and Remembering a Loved One for Years

Saying goodbye to someone who has passed away is no easy thing to endure. For some people, simply knowing that a loved one can remain close for the remainder of life or even decades beyond brings peace and calm that helps with the mourning process. When you’re deciding the best approach for what to do with the cremated ashes of a loved one, take time to stop and consider how important it might be to you to keep those ashes well preserved so that you can continue to enjoy the memories long after they’ve passed. Whether you select a permanent or biodegradable cremation urn, or you are deciding on what type of environment you wish to store it in, keep yourself informed of what each one means so that you can make the best decision for you and your family. 


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