Barbados: Stealing from the dead?

Barbados Today:The practice of reusing graves after exhuming mortal remains is presenting a golden opportunity for some gravediggers.

According to one source familiar with cemetery work, sifting the remains for valuables such as rings, chains, gold teeth, and even silver fillings is a common practice, which sometimes pays dividends for diggers.

The practice is however not finding favour with some, who say it should be considered as stealing from the dead or desecration.

Graves that have not been purchased can be dug up and reused seven years after a burial; and often there is evidence of sloppy work by gravediggers who are more interested in valuables.

“It is not so much that we find a whole heap of stuff every time we dig up a grave, I found bangles and chains a couple times. The issue is how I see some of them treating people’s loved ones while they searching for gold. If a family member was to pass at the same time and see what does be going down, I feel it would be bare problems,” revealed one gravedigger.

Previously seen just as a ‘by-the-way’ benefit, the ghastly practice is said to have resurfaced with more frequency in recent years, resurrected by the prospects of quick returns from businesses involved in the trade of scrap gold for cash.

One gravedigger told Barbados TODAY he has sold over $3,000 worth of gold found in re-opened graves to various cash-for-gold operators. Another soil technician reported hitting “a big one” a few weeks ago.

He was referring to a gold cap pulled from an exhumed skull, which he claimed fetched $1,385. One priest, who did not want to be named, confirmed the report, but said he was concerned that if persons felt gravediggers were striking it rich, there could be the implications for the security of the cemeteries.

He also warned against placing valuables in the graves of loved ones, a position supported by Director of Lyndhurst Funeral Home George Griffith, who told Barbados TODAY his company “encourages relatives of the dearly departed to use costume jewellery instead of the genuine items”.

Meanwhile, Archdeacon of the Anglican Church Eric Lynch said he was not aware of the practice but noted that the scenario raised questions of ownership of the unearthed valuables on church property.

“There is no policy of the Anglican Church at the moment; it is a matter that I would wish to get first from the clergy, who are responsible for our cemeteries and graveyards to indicate the occurrence of this. Secondly, to ask our legal [attorneys] to advise on the ownership of such finds,” Lynch said.

While not disclosing the locations, a source also told Barbados TODAY that sifting for “duppy gold” was more likely to pay dividends at cemeteries closer to the urban corridor, although the practice was not limited to any particular site.

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