How Long Do Cremated Ashes Last?

A common question that we find in the cremation diamond industry is do ashes have an expiration date? The short answer is they don’t; at least not in our lifetime. It would take around one million years for ashes to dissolve since they are made solely of inorganic material. When remains are placed in an urn, they are protected from oxygen and other elements that would start to break them down. 

Below we have highlighted some discoveries from archeologists that may surprise you and how other cultures created a safe space for cremation. 

But first, let’s see what ashes are really made of and what’s the process that makes them into ashes. 

What Are Ashes? 

The origin of cremation began where the deceased was placed on a wooden pyre. Some cultures had very specific rituals and considered it a ceremony. A pyre is still a large part of the Hindu culture that in some places, they continue to practice. 

Even though cremated remains are called ashes, they are mainly composed of bone, and tend to look and feel like sand. Most organic matter is burned away and the remains pass through a magnetic field to detect any implants, fillings or casket remains. All that remains is the skeletal structure, small bone fragments that contain carbon, and trace amounts of other minerals. 

The skeletal structure is mainly carbonates and calcium phosphates. It is what gives bones their strength and perseverance. We absorb metals throughout our life and those can be found in the ashes because they were absorbed by our skeletal system. 

What we eat also plays a role in what will be in the ashes. For example, whether someone was vegetarian or not could be detected in the types and amounts of minerals and metals that are found in the bone fragments. Therefore, no two cremated remains are the same. 

In order for something to decompose, it must have organic substances in it. Since all of the organic matter is burned away during cremation, this is why ashes can last (almost) forever – or at least for our entire lifetime. Bones are still DNA and scientists believe that DNA has survived for about one million years.

Archeologist Discoveries 

Scientists have found cremated remains from centuries ago, so that truly speaks to the longevity of ashes. Although there are many other findings than the four we have below, we feel this gives an idea of what is possible in the longevity of ashes. 

Recently, there was a discovery in Israel where a 9000-year-old cremated body was found. This dates to the oldest known cremation in the Middle East. Scientists found a cremation pit where bones still remained and could clearly see how this practice was a ritual in the culture, based on details like the hedging, or bricks, laid around the pit. 

A burial urn was found in a community garden in Ireland that dates back to 4000 years ago. The site was being prepared to be a new community hospital when construction showed that the area was an ancient burial site. 

A ceramic box in China was found with 2,500-year-old remains that are thought to be Buddha. Although there is no way to identify if this is accurate, the box has Buddha’s name on it. 

Britain’s Stonehenge was a royal burial site, where cremated remains have been found. It is believed that this area was a burial site 500 years before the massive stones were put in place. An archeologist believes that ceremonies were consistently held here to honor those who have passed on. 

Cultures and Cremation 

Many cultures throughout the world have used a funeral pyre, which is a ceremony by placing the deceased on a wooden structure outside to be cremated. Each culture has its own memorable way to honor its loved ones. We have highlighted five below. 

  • Ireland: A funeral pyre was used in the Bronze Age and materials such as oak, fruitwood, and ash tree were used. Once the deceased was cremated, all of the pyre material was buried with the remains. 
  • Poland: Also in the Bronze and Iron Ages, they would use material closest to where the ceremony was held. 
  • Italy: Here the deceased were taken to a pyre outside of the city, where the Ancient Romans also utilized tombs called bustums. Or they would put the ashes into an urn, then place them in a tomb. In this culture, a funeral pyre was a sign of wealth. 
  • Nordic Civilizations: This culture focused on making the smoke from the fire as big as they could. They believed it assisted the departed in reaching their afterlife. Offerings or belongings from the deceased were burned as well. 
  • Hindu: In India, Nepal, Bangladesh, and Indonesia, funeral pyres are a sacred ceremony where the body returns to its elemental form. They focus on acknowledging air, water, fire, earth, and ether in the ceremony and have the separated feet facing south and near a body of water. The ashes then enter the body of water. 

Just as these cultures knew, cremation is an intimate responsibility assisting their loved ones, either to their afterlife or simply the final respect for the physical body. To this day, we have transformed the way we honor the dearly departed in a lot of ways but the heartfelt connection remains the same. 

How To Store Ashes 

There are a few important facts to touch on. 

If someone is planning to bury an urn filled with ashes, a biodegradable urn is best used to prevent contaminating the Earth, and still could take around 20 years to fully decompose. Calcium and other trace minerals within the ashes will affect the ground and plants around it. If someone wants to scatter ashes in the water, water-soluble scattering urns will dissolve in the water over time. 

Although there are some options to make burying or scattering ashes more environmentally friendly, at the end of the day, ashes are not exactly best suited to be spread around for the Earth’s sake. 

Since ashes last forever, it gives a loved one time to decide how they want to commemorate the beloved who has passed. That is one of the beautiful traits of cremation jewelry. Some people know right away that they want to turn a loved one’s ashes into a diamond, and others may need more time to make that decision or time to save up for it. 

At Eterneva, we personally call each potential customer to ensure we get to know them, their loved ones, and their story. We have been told that this initial welcome call makes a huge impact when someone is deciding whether to move forward to create a diamond with us. 

It gives us time and space to build trust with who we are working with, and an opportunity for us to show our confidence in the expertise that we have built over time in the cremation diamond industry. 

If you decide to make a diamond with us, we will send you a Welcome Kit  that contains instructions on how to send your loved one’s ashes or hair to our facility and a secure container to send them back in. The ashes or hair will be put through our carbon purification process that burns away anything that is not carbon since that is the last element we need to make your diamond. 

It’s important to know intimately who we are working with and infuse your beloved’s memories into a masterpiece.  

Storing Ashes at Home 

The best places to keep the ashes are in the living room or dining room, which are more of the communal spaces of the home. However, you should always do what feels right and feels best to you when choosing the right space in your home for your loved one’s ashes. 

In Conclusion 

Without a doubt, we want to celebrate and remember our loved ones and cherish all of our memories of them. If we have the ashes of any loved ones, they will remain intact for as long as we live. This is wonderful news; it gives us time to grieve and heal as we need, in our own timeframe. 

If a cremation diamond is what your heart is set on, all that is needed is ½ cup of ashes or hair. This may mean you have more than one opportunity to commemorate their life! 

Just as the cultures mentioned above had their rituals, these ceremonies have evolved over time. The cremation diamond industry has been around since 2001—that is only 20 years! This way of celebrating life is gaining popularity for a number of reasons. 

We go through a heartbreaking experience, where we feel like life can’t go on how it used to, filled with joy, peace, and happiness. As our grief transforms in our healing, we emerge stronger and more adapted to take on this new version of life, exactly how the ashes transform over eight months into a raw diamond, then ultimately into a unique design of that loved one. 

We are grateful that ashes last for as long as we live, it allows us the ease into making the best most aligned decision for ourselves. 

Sources: 

What’s a Funeral Pyre & Who Used Them? | Join Cake

Bronze Age Burial Urn Harvested From Irish Vegetable Patch | Ancient Origins

Scientists see something royal in Stonehenge bones | LA Times

BREAKING: Remains of Buddha Found? 2,500-Year-Old Cremated Bones with Revealing Inscription Unearthed in China | Ancient Origins

How Long Does DNA Last? | Mental Floss 

Oldest Known Cremation in The Near East, From 7000 BC | Ancient Origins 

BROWSE BLOG & RESOURCES BY CATEGORY

Featured Articles

Stay Up To Date

Sign up to receive our latest blog posts, grief wellness resources, and featured articles.

Ready to Start the Process?

The $100 Eterneva Welcome Kit contains everything you need to start the journey to memorialize a remarkable life.

Join the grief wellness movement by email or text.