How Deep Is a Grave? It Depends
Updated: May 4
A grave is typically 4 feet deep.
However, that assumes the grave in question is comprised of a traditional casket burial, and it's located in the United States. Time period also has a hand in the depth of grave digging. If it's an older grave, it may be deeper or more shallow. So how can you tell how deep a particular grave is? Read on to find out how to make the best educated guess.
Six Feet Under: True or False?
You've probably heard of the popular phrase about bodies being buried "6 feet under". While more modern caskets are buried four feet under, this particular grave phrase originated in the 1600s. While no one knows exactly why six was the magic number of feet, we can speculate. Some of the most plausible reasons include:
As an order from the Lord Mayor of London during the 1665 plague
To prevent plague spread from dead bodies
To deter animals from digging up graves
To mitigate the chance of grave diggers not being able to get out once dug
To thwart grave robbers
To prevent farmer plows from uprooting buried bodies
To adhere to a rule of unknown origin that graves should be as deep as the deceased person was tall
Whatever the case, scientific advancements have led the public to take a different approach. Many individual states in the US set the requirements for grave depth. If you're trying to determine the likely depth of a grave in a certain state, a quick Google search should give you the minimum depth. For instance, in Ohio, graves are mandated to be at least three and a half feet deep.
What About Non-Traditional Grave Depth?
The death industry isn't slowing down any time soon. This means that, along with scientific advancements, there are different types of burials available. While they aren't as popular as traditional burials, they are on the rise. In fact, cremation has recently outranked the popularity of traditional burial choices. There are other forms of burial options available around the globe, as well, including:
Living urns or "tree urns"
Coral reef burials
Above ground burials
Modern burial parks (like this one in Australia)
Natural, green burials
All of these different types of burials will have different grave depth. Aside from a locale's mandatory minimum grave depth, there will be variations. The sky and coral reef burials will not have a locale attached, but other types will and, therefore, will have to adhere to local regulations. For instance, Recompose is a human body decomposition company that turns dead bodies into compost, or soil that can be used anywhere. They partner with forests that can house that soil, for instance, but you may not even necessarily know where that "grave" is located. Modern cemeteries and burial parks are the natural next step for the United States, allowing a place for non-traditional burials to be held.
What Are the Grave Depth Laws?
Some places have laws that mandate grave depth, but they also have rules and regulations in regards to the burial process. For example, the state of Pennsylvania requires that each dead body has to go through an embalming process before an open-casket burial. There are gray areas here. Is a natural burial considered open-casket? It wouldn't be an environmentally friendly burial anymore if embalming fluid was used. However, more and more individuals are looking to greener options for burials, so these laws will likely change.
In the meantime, it's advised when looking to figure out grave depth to look at the location of the grave. If it's in a cemetery or burial park, you can even reach out to a representative of the company. They can fill you in on the local laws and the typical practices of their particular facility. As the death industry changes, there won't be a straight-forward answer to "how deep is a grave?" - rather, it will require knowledge of the type of burial. Hopefully, "six feet under" won't be the norm in the near future.