Pinpointing Burial Plots

By Mark Roberti

RFID tags could replace gravestones in green cemeteries.

Natural burial is a growing phenomenon among eco-conscious baby boomers. Unlike conventional burial, it involves body preparation free of chemical preservatives, and wrapping in a simple shroud or placement in a biodegradable casket made of locally harvested wood.

But here's the rub: Natural burial cemeteries often use grave markers that don't intrude on the landscape, such as shrubs or trees. Graves are not placed in straight lines, and the landscape tends to change over time.

That means locating a specific gravesite can be a challenge.

Typically, operators of natural burial grounds must abide by the same rules as municipal cemeteries. This means they must keep strict documentation about their plots, recording the position of each grave so it can be located in case, for instance, a body must be exhumed. In the United Kingdom, the government recommends marking graves at natural cemeteries with—you guessed it—RFID transponders.

"Natural Burial Grounds: Guidance for Operators," a document published recently by the Ministry of Justice, says: "It is recommended that all burial ground operators should put in place ways to identify the location of graves with accuracy.… This could be done by surveying each plot and recording the coordinates and locations on a digital plan; using a radio frequency identification (RFID) system that uses devices attached to memorials or pegged into the ground that transmit data to an RFID receiver; using fixed markers (in cases where grave locations do not conform to any pre-defined pattern, three markers may be required to locate a grave by triangulation)."

The Natural Death Centre in the United Kingdom reports some of its member cemetaries are concerned that RFID tags may not be eco-friendly. Still, with 220 natural cemeteries in that country alone, tracking the deceased could become a significant use of the technology.