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Tombstones That Last? 54

Reality Master 101 asks: "Being an engineer, I've always been annoyed by the quality of the average tombstone. The typical marble kind only seem to last a maximum few hundred years before the lettering gets worn away. Old-school stone ones were better, but you still max out at about 500 years. This started me asking the question of what would I make one out of that would last 1000 years? 10,000 years? Clearly a solid gold or silver tombstone would last without corroding, but that would be uneconomical and would probably be stolen. What material would give the most bang for the buck for lasting power? What other factors come into play when you start talking Egyption timespans? I was also thinking that I should mount the tombstone to the casket so it doesn't fall over or otherwise wander away." It's odd the links to things that you can find over the internet, so when I read this question, I was reminded of one of Piro's recent rants on MegaTokyo that starts off with an odd discussion about this very issue. Might the information passed in the beginning of the rant be a reason why tombstones made today don't last very long? Do Tombstones need to last for over 500 years, anyways?
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Tombstones That Last?

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  • heh heh heh!

    We are evil that way, aren't we?

  • Cremation for me, thanks. I don't wanna be a waste of space *after* I'm dead, too.

    - A.P.

    * CmdrTaco is an idiot.

  • Posted by CommodoreKackner:

    To C. Thomas,

    I have a Perl-related query that only you can solve (you'll understand once I explain, it's about a script you authored). In order to save this thread from something off-topic, I request your e-mail address so that I may further detail the extent of my plans.
  • Oh really? And what makes you think that perpetual care will accually exist byond your time? Sure it will continue for a few years or so, but for how long? Stable goverments for more then 1000 years are rare. I'm not certian that any have made it that long. Future historians interested in the life of people from the 20th century (which will be interesting if they figgure out what we have done, even if it seems primitive by their standards), but they won't have much to go on. CDs hav been claimed to last 100 years, not 1000. Stone in a desert has been proven to last, but climates have been known to change. Indeed if you can find a way to make deserts grow odds are they will become argracultural areas. (Look at Chile, theyhave the dryest desert, no rain in over 500 years, but they irrigate it - who knows what this will do to your tombstone.

    Personally I want to be burried in an unmarked grave in the middle of a field. I want my body to become fertialiser. When my soul (whatever you belive, you get the concept) no longer inhabbits my body I don't care what happens to it, if my body can be useful to others, then that is fine with me.

  • by ptomblin ( 1378 ) <ptomblin@xcski.com> on Saturday March 17, 2001 @03:41PM (#357453) Homepage Journal
    What sort of arrogance is it that could lead you to believe that anybody is going to care who you are and where you were buried 500 years from now? Sure, tombstones from 500 years ago are interesting to historians, but only because of the absense of other records about how people lived. I don't know if you've noticed, but we're pretty much a record keeping and artifact building culture now, not a bunch of rural peasants whose only impact on the land is wiped out by the next rain.

    There are tons of grave yards that have been dug up and the tombstones placed on a wall somewhere because the land was needed for something else. And the pressure on land is only growing. I wouldn't give current grave yards a snowball's chance in hell of surviving out the next century without being paved over.

    Do yourself and future generations a favour. Get cremated, have your ashes scattered somewhere that meant something to you, and build your legacy by having good children rather than a long-lived gravestone.
  • Suppose you had resources like Bill Gates? How about building a pyramid like (or larger than) the Great Pyramid? After all, today there's modern earth moving equipment.

    OpenSourcerers [opensourcerers.com]
  • by Tumbleweed ( 3706 ) on Saturday March 17, 2001 @03:34PM (#357455)
    What about stainless steel?

    Then electrify it so it doesn't get tampered with. :)
  • I AM a materials engineer, ceramics don't corrode/react much at all. They are the low-energy form of metals/minerals. Using a loose defination, rocks ARE ceramics.
  • by whydna ( 9312 ) <whydna&hotmail,com> on Saturday March 17, 2001 @03:22PM (#357457)
    I'm not a materials engineer, but I remember seeing some demonstrations of ceramics in a class I took. They had hammers and engine componenents that were increadably strong and able to withstand extreme heat, etc. I'm not familiar with the corrosivity of ceramics, but they may hold the answer to your question. They look fairly nice too...

  • The problem isn't that common materials don't last; it's that you're looking at marble.

    Marble is metamorphosed limestone, and so will corrode like crazy in an acidic environment. Any reasonably sturdy oxide (quartz, granite, glass, ceramic, etc.) should last long enough for your purposes.
  • I have a Perl-related query that only you can solve (you'll understand once I explain, it's about a script you authored). In order to save this thread from something off-topic, I request your e-mail address so that I may further detail the extent of my plans.

    Disposable account du jour: cthomas one two three four five at hotmail dot com
  • We could bury all of the people who have ever lived on the Earth, about 105 billion [spiritone.com], in a space the size of the State of Kansas (82,000 square miles). That would give about 22 square feet for each grave.
  • Sounds like a good place to steal electricity in the Mad Max future when energy is hard to get.
  • Either find something that can tolerate the acid that falls downwind of our factories, or put your tombstone somewhere where they don't have acid rain.

    There are stones with inscriptions that lasted thousands of years in Egypt, and then after being moved to New York, disappeared in a single century.

  • 'nuff said!
  • Have you ever wondered why the letters on your keycaps never wear off? Have you seen a cheap keyboard where they did?

    The pigment is embedded in the plastic, not just a thin layer that's painted on. Take a durable material (granite or maybe ceramic -- ceramic would certainly be easier). Make the letters of the inscription be veins of tinted material that go all the way through.

    That way, no matter how worn down the monument gets, the writing will still be readable, especially if the surface is ground down a bit.

  • First, I'd seriously consider granite. It is available from all regular sources and it doesn't noticably degrade over the 100 year timespan (I did a bit of 'field research' a few years back: comparing the apparant degradataion of tombstones of different materials in local graveyards) If you are really worried about long term readability, you could spend a bit extra for a larger monument with deeper inscriptions.

    Another option, that you probably won't find at the regular sources, is glass. Tempered glass several inches thick is unlikely to be easily shattered and should resist acid rain fairly well. The inscription could be embeded beneath a clear outer layer to add some extra resistance to environmental damage. I haven't any idea where you would go to get a glass tombstone, or how much you would expect to pay.

  • As a genealogist, I would give almost anything to find reliable information on my ancestors from 500+ years ago. While I don't expect the majority of my own descendents to care in 500 years, there will likely be a few who wonders about their ancestry back in the ol' Sol system.

    On cremation... Not necessarily a bad idea, but I'd still like a monument to my existance.


  • Personally, I would prefer a tombstone made out of explosively sintered ceramics.
  • I have news for you, youngster. Graves get maintenance. Unless you're going to get yourself buried out on the family farm, you buy or lease that burial plot from the cementery. In most places, part of the money goes in a maintenance fund -- if there's enough money in the fund, the interest income will pay for the maintenance forever. Some contracts only reserve the land for a specified time, and sometimes the cementery operation goes out of business and abandons the land.

    Actually, your best bet for a perpetual monument is to have a separate well-funded foundation which is in charge of maintaining the monument. Of course, to be fail-safe you should have several cooperating foundations which are geographically disperse and operating under the protection of unrelated governments, so as to avoid destruction by war, economic, political, religious, or legal changes.

    Certainly, the foundation would have paid the cementery for its maximum maintenance fund. But your foundation would be responsible for monitoring that maintenance is suitable and deal with special situations. If the cementery closes, a highway is routed through your final resting place, or molten rock dissolves your monument, then the foundation would have funding and specifications for building a replacement at a suitable site.

    Or just write a great book, one which you'd be proud to have as your memorial, and hope that libraries and Project Gutenberg will preserve it for you.

  • Engineer, eh? Napping during your materials science class? *grin*

    Only corrodes in a monoatomic layer, so it never really "rusts" more than an atom or two thick. Dull finish, so it's not as enchanting as stainless steel (many of which still corrode). Might be recycled by someone, but I wouldn't exactly call that an insult. Now, if your stone tombstone were ground up and used for road construction.... Magnesium is in the same category, but, well, a bit tempting to ignite for those who can identify it.

    The real problem with tombstones is that they are not acid-resistant. Not a problem a centuries ago, but with the advent of fossil fuels and acid rain, probably quartz would be a good choice. You can make your own by passing large amounts of current through things, and they're experimenting with this now as a way of permanently and intertly dealing with nasty chemicals. Maybe just cast yourself something in glass.

    The problem here is that rain is mildly acidic (something like 5.6) even when clean and not polluted.

    The solution? You need to become such a person among humanity that society will pick up the bill of maintaining your tombstone forever.
  • The solution? You need to become such a person among humanity that society will pick up the bill of maintaining your tombstone forever.

    You don't even have to do that; there is a thing out there called Perpetual Care. You (or more likely, your survivors) pay a chunk of change up front. The care for the plot (and sometimes the stone itself) come out of the interest payments.

    This is probably safer than having society pick up the bill; if you're one of those people, you're likely to be stripped bare by a 24th century descendant of Lara Croft, well after you'd be able to enjoy it.

  • There are tons of grave yards that have been dug up and the tombstones placed on a wall somewhere because the land was needed for something else. And the pressure on land is only growing. I wouldn't give current grave yards a snowball's chance in hell of surviving out the next century without being paved over.

    It's obvious you never get out of whatever big megalopolis you live in. There's lots of land out there. Next time you're flying somewhere more than an hour or two away, look down and you'll understand. Sure, graveyards in the middle of Manhattan might be in danger of being removed, but not the one in, say, Wallville, Oklahoma.

    SecretAsianMan (54.5% Slashdot pure)
  • I have decided of two things I want done with my body (and i'm sure any trolls responding to this post will have a few ideas themselves).
    1. Have decomposed organs removed and have my body sterilized then launched into space, wearing a spacesuit, with a surfboard nailed to my feet and a solar powered broadcast system playing that cheesy (and uncopyrighted) surf song unto eternity.
    2. Put my dead body in an air balloon with some automated height system so I cannot crash. I float over populated areas leaning (and learing) out at school children over the years as my decomposing body becomes somewhat of an icon. The government eventually shoot me down.

  • Maybe I haven't seen the right kind of ceramics, but I'm imagining something that looks like a big white toilet tank. Not how I want to be remembered.

    On the other hand, you could delight generations of children by putting a little metal handle on the top left corner...
  • For those interested in the challenges of really long term preservation, check out the Long Now Foundation [longnow.org], who are building a variety of interesting projects, including a 10,000-year clock [longnow.org] (designed by ubergeek Danny Hillis) and an updated version [longnow.org] of the Rosetta Stone [demon.co.uk]. I've seen these pieces in person, and they're very cool.

    For the clock, they mention [longnow.org] they are using "Monel alloy, Invar alloy, tungsten carbide, metallic glass, and synthetic sapphire" in the prototype.
  • I think that you'd be surprised at how interested people in the future might be about who lived where when. My parents recently moved to an old farmhouse (built ~1750) in western New Jersey. In the corner of the lot is a little old cemetary and we all found it just fascinating to clear the brush away from that area and dig out the mostly buried tombstones from that area. Most of the stones were pretty worn down but by taking rubbings of them we were able to make out the people's names and determine that they had been buried sometime around the beginning of the 19th century.

    These were fairly average people who seemed to have spent their days raising dairy cows (or so we assume, based on the general history of the area) they didn't build huge fancy monuments, but rather, were buried in their own back yard. Just because you aren't the most important in the society of your time doesn't mean that people in the future won't find some of the details of your life interesting. Carving your details into a piece of rock seems like a very tangible way to leave a record of your existance to the future, especially in this digital age where all of our records are stored in such a vaporous state.

    In answer to the question posed, I believe that there are some synthetic rock like compounds that should prove to be quite lasting.

  • Put it on a rocket in some semblance of a stable orbit around the sun. Hard to get to, sure, but very long lasting. Or you could send it to the moon, crash onto the surface, though you would have to worry about micrometeorite erosion. Get your DNA encoded onto a gold platter like on the Voyagers and pay JPL to put it on its next spacecraft that will leave the solar system. How about a crate of dynamite and a mountain as in Mt. Rushmore?
  • According to that page, Rynite is a glass-filled polyethylene terepthalate. These plastics degrade in sunlight after a few years, and then the glass has no matrix to hold it together.

    Plastics in general are bad choices. A glass-filled PTFE might have the requisite toughness and chemical/UV resistance, but they still char in fire (a cemetary is bound to have grass or forest fires if left unmaintained for long enough). Many plastics just fall apart by themselves after a few tens of years, as the Smithsonian has found out. Stick with hard stone (granite, basalt, obsidian?) or ceramics.

  • If it was your kid, you might feel differently.

    No, I wouldn't. I'd want to remember him/her for the positive things that happened. Not for where he/she left a nice blood stain.

    Maybe if the markers designated the site of an honorable death, I might understand. 99.9% of the time, they don't. I gave a couple of examples. Here's another: There's a cluster of four crosses I pass on my daily commute. They mark the location where four people died pushing an out-of-gas vehicle, with no lights on, across a high-speed divided highway at 3AM. There is no cross at this location for the driver who hit their unlit vehicle on the dark highway at 3AM. I'm sure he has a nice headstone in the proper place, though.

    I can't be certain, but I doubt there are Darwin Awards on the crosses. There probably could be.


  • by Mononoke ( 88668 ) on Saturday March 17, 2001 @04:15PM (#357479) Homepage Journal
    How many of those stupid little white crosses are going to fill the shoulders of the highway until someone decides we've had enough?

    I certainly hope my surviving friends and family remember me for the smart things I did, and don't imortalize me for doing something stupid like riding a bicycle in the traffic lane of a highway.

    A marker at a 'final resting place' is one thing. A marker reminding everyone of where doofus rearended a semi is a waste of time and space.


  • I suggest you put it on the moon. Apart from the chances of being hit by meteorite, what environmental factors would affect it?

    Of course, no-one would see it there until Moonbase Alpha is completed.... perhaps better would be to burn the inscription on the moon so big it can be seen from earth. If you change your name to Coca-Cola I'm sure you'd get sponsorship.
  • After all, today there's modern earth moving equipment.

    Don't forget... The Egyptions had "modern" earth moving equipment too.

  • If it was your kid, you might feel differently.
  • Perhaps you could make a tombstone out of the same kind of stone that statue was made of in Percy Bysshe Shelley's poem Ozymandius?

    That thing certainly lasted a long time, and was a fitting tribute to the sort of person who expects the world to remember him forever.
  • heh, The idea that Piro's rant on cement landed on slashdot is unnerving to say the least ;) -largo
  • by ArcticChicken ( 172915 ) on Saturday March 17, 2001 @03:10PM (#357486)
    In part, I think the Egyptians lucked out. They happened to be in a good climate for preserving material: the desert.

    These days, isn't it acid rainfall that causes the majority of disintegration of stonework? If so, my advice would be to step up your personal campaign against pollution and acid rainfall, and then arrange to be burried somewhere in a really, really dry desert area that's likely to stay that way for the next thousand years or so. Try the Sahara or something.
  • A tombstone to outlast all tombstones?
    Well, lets see if we set some rather lofty goals:
    +Lasts 10,000+ years
    +Over that period it retains its structural integrity.
    +Any inscriptions/designs/etc should still be intact (And perhaps a "rosettas stone" of sorts, for future civilizations)
    +And since this marking your grave, a method for retaining your remains/mementos/etc in an air-tight containter so they last as long as the tombstone.
    The only feasible solution I can think of is to avoid the ever changing Earth and simply be blasted into space.
    This method allows for you to be placed in any form of container (within reason- it has to fit in the rocket) and of most types of materials (as long as you are incased in something to protect you from the hazards of space- your actual tomb could be inside this casing). You could even be aimed in a direction that avoids as much objects as possible- You might even be able to go for millenia undisturbed!
    Think about it: Some alien race may find your capsule and decide to place you in their museum! Or they could just decide to eat you, but at least you lasted that long!
    As far as I know, this is actually something that was planned to be available to the public, instead you would blast your cremated remains into space in a small rocket. I vaguely remember hearing about Gene Roddenbury's widow planning to blast some of his cremated remains into outer space. I don't know whether the company that was offering it ever actually succeeded in doing this, but it was planned.
    So, I suppose that if you had enough money you could possibly have your physical form and your tombstone (of sorts) to last for billions of years in the vastness of space.
  • It is cheep. It is hard so sand will not eat it away too fast like sandstone, and it is resistant to Acid (Acid rain). Also it looks cool. Better than ceramics that are often linked to toilets.
  • I agree with dutky. Glass is a viable solution. Others would be oxides, carbides, or nitrides. These would, basically, last forever (5000+ years). Something like Alumina may even be economically feasable to make a tombstone out of.

    Somebody above mentioned plastics, but I don't think that the current state of polymers can handle hundreds of years. This is because many plastics (e.g. Nylon) degrade in water and nearly all plastic photodegrade (sunlight).

  • One way to increase plot space is to forgo the traditional horizontal casket design and have yourself buried standing... thus increasing available space.

  • Actually, RoddenBury was placed in a small lipstick-sized container, and burned up in the atmosphere.
  • ... build your legacy by having good children rather than a long-lived gravestone.

    Or DON'T have kids! That would reduce the pressure on land quite a bit. It's OK to live your life without children. Really.

    Get a nice tombstone, give the historians something to look at. It's a better legacy than adding to the over-population of our only planet.

  • This does bring up an interesting question, and one I'm glad made it to the Slashdot Board. Most people tend to think long term in the sense of 50 or 100 years, even our houses are only engineered to last a little over a lifetime. I'd be very curious to see the long term affects of certain polymers. Certain engineered plastics can be very high performers in all areas, including price. Though I'm not aware of all the spec data, you can do that if you want, here's a few polymers I was able to dig up:

    Rynite [dupont.com], by Dupont.

    GE [geplastics.com] Has created a few Super-Performing resinse that I've read about before, but can't get access into their site without registering...God I hate that!

    Well, I'm not finding many right now, but I know that I've seen quite a few different plastics that have proven to be tremendous performers; but for 10,000 years, I can't say. But I'm almost sure it wouldn't be too difficult to find some closed cell, non-corrosive polymer, or maybe a polymer/metal blend, or a coating over concrete/stone...Hey, you know what, there may be niche for a business here? Either way, now that I think about it, a Good quality Stone or blend of some kind, dipped into an amorphous resin such as acrylic, might do very well in the aging process; but it'd require one hell of a creep test!

  • Along with the acid rain idea, I think that wherever this "Pillar of Vanity" is being placed, the geography is also an issue. Whether near a volcano, along the coast, or near a volcano on the coast! What we should do is build tombstones out of the stuff those little black boxes in planes are made out of. Those things never fail!

    Besides, aren't we going to be cloned anyway, or is there a patent on that?

  • Somewhere north of where I live is a granite quarry. Sometimes on the way home from work I see these huge lorries with a granite block the size of a room on the back. About 3m by 4m by 2m.

    I mean these things are huge. Solid. Massive. Weighs a helluva lot more than a ton. A Solid immovable chunk of granite on the move.

    These things grab my imagination as sources of fun and amusement....

    • Buy a book on sculpture, a hammer and a stone work chisel. Advertise in the Sunday newspaper "The complete Teach Yourself Sculpture kit, R100.00 contact ...."
    • When victim orders kit, arrive with truck plus massive granite block, roll video camera, knock on door and say, "Here is your instruction manual, hammer and chisel... Where do want the stone?"
    • If they temporise, get shirty and leave it on their driveway.

    Variants are possible...

    • In this country "funeral" schemes are quite popular. The idea is as you approach your end, you invest a small monthly sum with a funeral parlour. This prepays your funeral expenses, removing the burden from your dependents. (And ensuring a decent burial.)
    • Find some bod that is investing thusly....
    • Arrive one day with truck and stone saying you're from the undertakers, here is his tombstone, where does he want to store it?
    • If he temporises proceed as before...

    For this one, your need the aid of a friendly Do It Yourself building supply store...

    • When victim orders a load of gravel....
    • Appear at his door with block and hammer and chisel...

    Modern art has been a great source of giggles for everyone for decades...

    • Chisel an artists signature on the bottom right corner of the block.
    • Deliver block really very close to, but not quite blocking the doorway of a municipal or government building. (Portly pillars of society must have to really squeeze to get in...)
    • If anybody asks you what you're doing or orders you to desist, tell them you were told to put the new sculpture here.
    • If they persist in their demands. Show them a neatly printed paper ordering you to place the sculpture "Poetry in Motion" at said location. Proceed with off-loading.

    If the city fathers take legal steps against you, remove it whilst moaning copiously to the local newspapers about being "misunderstood", "unappreciated", "heathens", "actions were only undertaken out of civic pride" etc.

    Of course, the last joke should be, umm, "on me", I would love one of these things as my tombstone for when I snuff it...

    • Inscribe block with the epitaph, 'Here lies John Carter. "Excuse me if I don't get up."'

    However, a tad of circuitry to detect passes-by during the witching hours and a bit of sturdy hydraulics under the block could supply some light entertainment for my descendents....

    Nah! Too complicated. It would be better just to spread a rumour that I was determined to "take it all with me" and was buried with a huge treasure....

    The activity of placing a number of booby traps around the coffin, (stink bombs, luminous paint spray bombs, demon howlers, goblin laugh bags, etc. etc.) could cheer my mourners immensely while they prepare my grave for the treasure seekers...

  • Arthur C. Clarke would probably recommend a normal stone tombstone encased in a thin (1mm or less) layer of diamond. The diamond will be transparent, reasonably tough to scratch, and quite weather-resistant.

    Of course, acquiring such is a more difficult proposition. They're making lots of strides with new carbon compounds (bucky-whatnots). Or, you could wait until Jupiter explodes (9 years by A.C. Clarke's count) and then go get the diamond ejected from the planet core.
  • Another method of hiding it with a hated, but long lasting material, is to built it with taped re-runs of "Highway To Heaven" [aol.com]. That show never goes away, and nobody likes it!
  • Shoot, if you want something that will last for thousands and even millions of years--just take some data from our oh-so-friendly environmentalists. From what I recall, plastics can be made in such a way as to not biodegrade for many, many years. If you want to be remembered for a long time, I would have a casket made out of clear plastic and have it up on top of the ground. That way everyone can see your body in there--and just how you decompose naturally. Now that's a way to get noticed for centuries!

  • I'm sorry, but if you're talking Egypitian timespans, the next such timespan will see the earth not have enough space to give everyone their own graves. In the old days you could afford to give individual graves to everyone, and we can tollerate it now, but in the long run we're going to have to make room in your livingroom for a grave.

    Of course there are the examples, such as Japan, where space is at such a premium, that you're only buried for X-number of years before you're exumed and placed in a little jar for your home shelf.

    Quite frankly, there is no point in having tombstones last for more than a few hundred years, because after that, policies on burial are going to have to rapidly change.

    How about a sub-topic? How could we make the most use of space to fit our dead into? Cremation is obviously very compact, but maybe there are some other ideas out there that don't destroy the body (or minimize damage).
  • I wouldn't give current grave yards a snowball's chance in hell of surviving out the next century without being paved over.

    Do yourself and future generations a favour. Get cremated, have your ashes scattered somewhere that meant something to you...

    My company has a temporary hiring freeze. Sorry. I'll let you know when we're hiring again. (Should be soon.)

    Anyone else see what I see in the above statements? Sorry - I couldn't help but laugh. Just sounded funny to me.
  • by JediTrainer ( 314273 ) on Saturday March 17, 2001 @03:18PM (#357501)
    Firstly, kudos to you for asking the most unusual question I've ever seen on Slashdot.

    I was surprised, however, that you didn't mention the fact that gold (even if not stolen) would NOT be an ideal material for this sort of thing. True, it won't corrode, but a larger problem with gold is that it is so soft that the weather alone will probably destroy your beautiful creation.

    Alas, we need to find a material that won't corrode (or otherwise get destroyed in all but the most severe of weather conditions). Perhaps the solution lies in redundancy. First, make a granite (not marble) tombstone and carve with all the details. That should last you a while.

    After doing this, encase the entire thing in titanium. Carve again. The titanium shell should last you a few centuries, I believe, and even if it falls away you'll still have a few more centuries worth of granite to erode before it disappears.
  • In big cities, the cemetaries have a time limit on how long your grave lasts. So it is rather stupid to have a grave that lasts forever, but your grave site doesn't last that long. Also, why waste valuable materials for your grave when it could be benifiting the living (which it should)?

Competence, like truth, beauty, and contact lenses, is in the eye of the beholder. -- Dr. Laurence J. Peter