Forget cremation, forget embalming — when I go, I want to go in style. For some time now, I've been wondering how to get my mortal remains fossilized. I know that soft tissue doesn't normally fossilize, but there must be some exceptions: for example, the Petrified Forest in Arizona. What kind of conditions are necessary, and how long will it take? Our creationist friends are of the opinion that fossils are remains of animals that existed before the Flood; does that mean a man can become a fossil in a couple thousand years?
Illustration by Slug Signorino
Oh, I dunno. In my experience, with the right fluids, you can get pretty fossilized in about two hours. Presumably, however, you want longer-lasting results, in which case you need more elaborate techniques. But first we’d better define our terms.
Strictly speaking, a fossil is any vestige of past life embedded in the earth’s crust. This includes the frozen mammoths of Siberia, whose bodies were preserved soft tissue and all. It just so happens I have here a slender volume entitled How to Deep-Freeze a Mammoth by Bjorn Kurten. Though largely a whimsical meditation on archaeology, the book does offer a few practical hints for prospective fossilees:
(1) Arrange to have your remains placed on a steep south-facing hillside during winter in the high arctic tundra.
(2) See that said remains are protected from predators until frozen solid.
In spring, when the topsoil thaws, your corpse will slide to the bottom of the hill and, with luck, get buried in mud. If the mud is thick enough, your body will remain frozen in subsequent years and thus be preserved indefinitely.
The problem, of course, is that your carcass has to stay frozen, lest decomposition resume. (As it is, most of your internal organs will likely have putrefied prior to initial freezing.) This isn’t ideal if your plan is to leave something the great-grandkids can display on the mantelpiece. One alternative is mummification, which requires an extremely dry climate, or else preservation in a peat bog. If neither of these sounds fossillike enough for you, you could try getting trapped in amber (fossilized tree sap), though this seems to work best with small Baltic insects, such as Roman Polanski.
If what you really want is to get lithified (i.e., stoned in the literal sense), your best bet is to chuck this bourgeois attachment to skin and have your corpse buried in sediment percolated by groundwater containing calcium carbonate, silica, or the like. Your soft parts will soon decay, but with luck your bones will get caulked up with minerals in … oh, I’d check back in a century or two.
If you absolutely must have soft tissue, you could conceivably have yourself mummified first and then … aw, who am I kidding? If you’re that desperate, get yourself bronzed. My advice: resign yourself to enriching the biota with your decaying corpus. It’s more than some people will have accomplished while alive.
Send questions to Cecil via firstname.lastname@example.org.