Grave Digging Question II

My original post got lost. Here it is again:

Yesterday, I was at a funeral for a distant, elderly relative of my wife whom I never met before. Since I hardly knew anyone my mind began to wander at the gravesite. . .

My question: The grave site was in a very crowded cemetery, and the deceased’s grave was being buried next to her husband, whom was buried years before. How do gravediggers know exactly where to dig a fresh grave? It seems to me a slight miscalculation could cause the back hoe to rip into an older crypt – which would be quite embarrassing and horrific for family members.

I can understand that in newer cemeteries, they might have precise measuring of plots. But in older cemeteries – where one person is buried say, in 1931 and the one next to it is buried this year, how do they know where to dig?

A morbid question, I know, but it is almost Halloween. . .

Graveyards, even old ones, have precise plot plans just like every property in your town. You really have to go quite a ways back to find graveyards without accurate records or old enough that markers have deteriorated. Also, graves are not usually dug with normal backhoes. Specialized grave digging equipment is lightweight and has a small footprint so as not to damage neighboring plots. I’m sure that from time to time, shifting or a miscalculation will result in a surprise for the gravedigger, but many modern burials use concrete vaults to encase the coffin.

Good God, furnishesq, I had the exact same experience yesterday. What state was this funeral in? I know there are lots of funerals going on all the time, but…

They don’t dig the grave at the funeral. If an unfortunate accident occurred, they would have time to do something, I’m guessing.

My uncle had a parish in Southern NJ, and right next to it was the graveyard. I’d occasionally stay over at his house (right at the church) to play with my cousins in the field and graveyard next to his house.

I did notice one day that there were a row of 12 - 18" “sinkholes” or depressions in the ground spaced every yard or so. I asked him what they were, and was rather surprised by the answer: Revolutionary War-era graves with only pine coffins. Over time, water seeped in and degraded the wood, and eventually the coffin collapsed, allowing the soil over top to settle down.

Kinda freaky if you think about it. I guess I can understand the point of the concrete vaults nowadays. . .

The anklebone’s connected to the . . . shinbone. . .

Jewish burials (at least Orthodox ones) don’t use concrete vaults. I’ve been in many Jewish cemetaries, and I’ve never seen the sinkholes/depressions you describe. Not even over very old graves.

I’ve seen several depressions, just from settling of the soil, let alone the casket rotting away. That is a major reason as why many cemeteries here won’t even plant grass for at least a year after the funeral, so they can “even out” the ground after settling occurs.

I grew up across the street from a cemetery and they do indeed use backhoes.

Backhoes are used to remove large portions of the dirt, and to remove the dirt shoveled out by hand digging. the hoe operator leaves his bucket in the hole, the digger shovels dirt into that, the hoe operator takes it out and dumps it.YMMV, but where I’ve dug, it’s to iffy to dig a hole entirely by backhoe.


You’re in Baltimore - if you ever go to Arlington Cemetery, you can find plenty of parts just like that - depressions where the coffin collapsed.

Whenever we had an internment in a crowded part of the cemetery, we would poke a long, sharp pin four feet down into the ground to be sure we didn’t hit anything. We had a rectangular wooden frame that we blocked out with the probes, that laid over the plot. After we were sure there would be no obstruction, we cut a outline around the frame, lifted the sod for after the burial, and then dug. If there were too many headstones around the plot, we couldn’t bring in the backhoe, and we’d have to dig the grave by hand.

The area was sand and thick clay, but not many big rocks, so I don’t know what method gravediggers use in that type of soil.

Depressions from settled graves usually have 2 causes: not digging deep enough (very common 100+ years ago) and not putting all the dirt back on the grave. (And if you are going back far enough, re-use of plots.) Concrete vaults are just $$$ in the pocket of the funeral folks and have nothing to do with this. (You can actually get a depression over a concrete vault if you only level out the dirt afterwards. The freshly turned dirt will settle.)

I have seen those depressions in 150+ year old grave plots. If you look in pioneer cemetaries you will find a few.

When someone posts on a very old thread on a forum, it is called gravedigging.

Gravedigging is frowned upon because the topic of the thread is usually dead - hence the term gravedigging.

Here it’s called raising a zombie. Since this one has been raised for no good reason, I’m going to lay it to rest for good.

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