Updated 03 August 2017

The town where you cannot be buried

If you wish to stay in this town, be warned that death takes a different course.


Yes, it’s true. As bizarre as it sounds, there is a town that hasn’t used its cemetery in over 70 years. And the reason is not that the residents live such healthy lives that they become immortal. Nor is there some mysterious force at work that keeps all residents alive.

All burials outlawed

Svalbard, a Norwegian town that sits between mainland Norway and the North Pole, has just under 3 000 residents, and has outlawed all burials.

An article by the BBC highlighted the town of Svalbard as one of the few places in the world where it is illegal to be buried. The bodies, once buried do not decompose because of the extreme temperatures common to that region.

According to the Norwegian Centre for International Cooperation in Education, the town is made up of 60% glaciers and the rest is permafrost.

A panorama of Svalbard.

National Geographic explains that permafrost is a permanent frozen layer of soil, gravel and sand commonly bonded together by ice. Its permanency is determined by the duration of the ice (longer than two years) and the temperature remaining below 0 degrees Celsius (32F). 

Nowhere to rest in peace

When the cemetery was in use it was found that the bodies weren’t decomposing because of the extremely low temperature and permafrost.

The cemetery in Svalbard has not been used in 70 years. 

A Health24 article explains that once someone has died, their body cools down to room temperature, known as algor mortis. Within minutes of death, the next process called putrefaction starts, which is when the body starts to rot and decay – and after the process of decomposition is completed, all that is left is the skeleton.  

In Svalbard, however, putrefaction stops once the body is buried because technically it is buried in ice. This creates a further problem for the town residents because frozen bodies draw wild animals that dig up and eat the buried corpses.

The general understanding today is that residents of the town who are very old or terminally ill are vacated to another town to prepare for death. 

Svalbard, a Norwegian town that sits between mainland Norway and the North Pole.

*Images sourced from Wikipedia and iStock.


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