Do the ashes in an urn disintegrate or biodegrade over time?

Rick Fraser
Submitted by UrnAdmin on Tue, 11/15/2016 - 16:08

If cremation is a fairly new concept for you, you may not understand what happens to the remains after they are placed in an urn. Over time, the ashes actually may change very little or not at all, even after a very long time.

What Are Cremated Remains Made Of?

Although cremated remains are typically referred to as “ashes,” they are not ashes in a traditional sense. During the cremation process, a machine heats up the body to a temperature much higher than a typical oven. At the end, all that is left is bone and some trace amounts of any metals in the body from implants, fillings and other similar things. The bones are pulverized and run through a system that removes the metals. The result is a collection of very fine bone fragments, weighing a few pounds. Bones do not disintegrate over time.

What Happens to Scattered or Buried Ashes?

The final disposition of the ashes depends on what you choose to do with them. Cremated remains may be scattered, but bone fragments do not biodegrade. If you choose to bury some ashes with seeds or rake the ashes over a garden, it is particularly important not to leave large piles of remains on the ground. While the ashes are not toxic, the calcium and other trace minerals in the bones can affect certain plants.

What About Ashes in an Urn?

If you place cremated remains in an urn and seal it tightly, it may last for centuries. In fact, this can be a storage problem for funeral homes that have to deal with unclaimed remains. It is a common practice for funeral directors to wait for families to collect a relative’s ashes, no matter how long it takes. Some funeral homes have ashes from the 19th Century that are still in their original containers. Given time, the cremated remains can last far longer. Archaeologists find preserved cremated remains that are thousands of years old, a testament to the long history of this practice.

Cultures have practiced cremation far earlier than the advent of writing. In some cases, cremated remains are all that is left of a person, thousands of years after their passing.