How long does embalming last?

I can never seem to find the answer to this question in the internet. Every time I ask it I always seem to get the answer “well, it depends on the climate that the person was buried in, yadda yadda yadda”. So suppose a person was embalmed and buried in an above-ground mausoleum outside of San Diego. For how long would that person remain perfectly preserved?

Perfectly preserved? The answer is still 0 days, 5 minutes or less. The body starts to break down immediately after death and essential life functions stop. The people you have heard from are not wrong. Embalming is not mummification and I don’t think mummification would even meet your standards. It’s purpose to preserve a body reasonably well for a few days until a funeral can be arranged without the overwhelming smell of decay being an issue. Even then, heavy makeup is required to make the body suitable for an open casket funeral.

You have set your standards much more exactly than you are asking even now to get a real answer. It sounds like you are asking a cosmetic question and the answer is variable even by body part.

There is real research in this area that you can view online if you are interested. Look up the Tennessee body farm to see how people decay under different conditions. Embalming only slows down that process but doesn’t stop it.

In general, you would be looking at an extremely decayed corpse in weeks or months if you dug up the casket after it was buried but it depends on casket type. Ironically, the expensive sealed types promote anaerobic bacterial putrification which is much more disgusting than a simple dirt burial with no casket.

I actually just read an article about funeral homes that said that once embalmed, a body can remain on display for days, months, or years. Not sure how truthful that is, though.

And by “perfectly preserved” I basically meant if you were to open the casket, for how long a time would the person still look the same as they did in life?

“Perfectly preserved” in the sense that you are using it is a very different thing from being fit to be on display.

When my Grandma died, we delayed the funeral for a little, to accommodate people’s schedules. By the day of the funeral, her skin had a slight but definite greenish tinge.

Here’s some information about the measures required for Lenin’s body.

And some pictures–

The body of Pope John XXIII was (unintentionally) suitable for public display decades after his death.

And, as freaky as that picture is, it’s even weirder in person.

look into freeze drying. Taxidermists use that for all kinds of critters and pets.
The well preserved humans on display are preserved in much the same way technacally if not actually.
Here, is some info.

There’s actually a case that’s quite similar to the circumstances you describe.

A 2-1/2 year-old girl died from (what turned out to be) child abuse in January 1965. Her stepmother claimed that she had defective bone formation in her feet or ankles and thus was prone to falling down. The stepmother claimed that the frequent falling was the cause of her bruises and ultimately her death. She was entombed in a mausoleum in El Cajon, California.

In 2003, investigators re-examined the circumstances of her case. They removed her body from the mausoleum for a new autopsy and found that her body had mummified, preserving the patterns of bruising from her abuse (and demonstrating that there was no bone malformation). The stepmother committed suicide before she could be prosecuted.

One of the various autopsy shows that cable TV is fond of showed the bruising on her actual head (with colors altered, perhaps for reasons of taste or to make the bruises more obvious) along with a “re-enactment” that presumably used a mock-up of what the body looked like. It was certainly well-preserved for the sake of a forensic examination, but you wouldn’t consider it “viewable” for the average person. The tissues had darkened and were, well, mummified–dry and shriveled-looking. Undoubtedly the body was embalmed, but as others have said, it’s designed to keep bodies looking acceptable for a matter of days, not years or decades.

Actually, some of the 19th century embalming is quite good at preserving a body. The man who founded the Tennessee University “body farm” learned this on his first case-some kids had vandalized some graves in a rural cemetery. This anthropologist testified that a body that they had uncovered was that of a recently deceased man.
It wasn’t it- was the body of a Civil War general, who had been in the ground almost 100 years. Back then, undertakers used nasty stuff like chloride of mercury, arsenic and zinc salts-all of which are very effective at stopping decomposition.

More on the UT body farm, with passing reference to the misdiagnosis of the Civil War soldier (warning: non-gory pictures of corpses):