Many places around the world are eerily distinguished by the presence of dead bodies laid to rest, or sometimes, unrest for one reason or another. In this list, we profile the spots where the bodies are in abundance — sometimes in the strangest places, and sometimes for the strangest reasons.
10. El Conchalito Beach (Baja California Sur, Mexico)
El Conchalito Beach is not just any beach. This beach of the dead makes waves against the idea that beaches are fresh, airy, non-spooky places thanks to its abundance of painted skeletons. Deposited by indigenous tribe members, the skeletons were not only placed in the sand but later unearthed and painted red, ceremonially. Watch your sunbathing and sand walking plans! Ancient indigenous cultures in the area of El Conchalito Beach, located along La Paz Bay in Baja California Sur in peninsular western Mexico, offer archeologists a fascinating series of complex insights into ancient cultural practices in a type of landscape more often associated with vacations than grisly finds of human remains. Here, skeletons from cultural groups dating back 3,000 years are found.
A total of 57 bodies were found at El Conchalito Beach, consisting of 23 adult males, 15 adult females, seven adults who were not identifiable by gender, three youths of various ages, and eight children. 30 of these deceased people were classified as representing primary burials (buried for the first time), while others had been disturbed in what are known as secondary burials. Perhaps most disturbing was the variety of ways in which bodies were arranged. Some were bent into an L-shape, others stretched out full length, some flexed, and most unsettling, others dismembered and buried in sectional pieces. Decorations placed with the dead included palm fronds, seashell mounds and shark teeth.
9. The Skeletons of Hurricane Sandy
Bodies were discovered entangled with the roots of a large tree some time after Hurricane Sandy struck, but these were not remains arising from hurricane fatalities. The bones dated back to 18th century burials. The landscape setting was the town of New Haven, Connecticut, a place soon to reveal ancient and gruesome secrets thanks to the falling of the huge Lincoln Oak when Hurricane Sandy felled the tree, bringing to light an ancient skeleton, with more to come shortly. Soon after Halloween in 2012, resident Katie Carbo notified the police when she saw a skeleton tangled in the roots of the collapsed oak tree. The mouth was open, and the ribs and spinal column remained attached.
The tree had grown through the remains, revealing them in modern times. Upon investigation, yet more bodies were discovered, enmeshed in the tree roots. Also of interest, a historic time capsule was found, having been placed in the spot in 1909. Archeological assessment indicated that the time capsule placement would have previously disturbed the bodies due to their proximity. The total number of bodies in the roots of the Lincoln Oak came to seven individuals, including the adult male that had surprised finder Katie Carbo, as well as another adult and children, one of whom had been laid to rest with a toy marble. Some remains were complete skeletons, while others had been reduced to fragments.
8. Mexico’s Ancient Human Sacrifice Pool
Yucatan, Mexico is home to the Chichen Itza archeological site, close to which lie a series of cenote pools. One of these pools is a historic site worthy of notoriety, Cenote Sagrado, known locally as Chen Ku. The site is of importance in studying Mayan history given its exceptionally eerie past. Human sacrifices were performed here in this deep pool, resulting in an abundance of skeletons being present for modern visitors to discover. Skulls, bones, you name it — they are all here. The few survivors who got past being thrown into the pools would have been recognized as divine beings in their communities.
A surprising twist in the story is the mysterious blue ink that was part of the ritual, coloring the pool an azure shade to this very day. Pleasing Chac, the rain god responsible for life sustenance and agricultural success, was the reason for the human sacrifices, who were tossed into the cenote. The pool of water is surrounded by sheer circular walls, which make unaided escape exceptionally challenging (if not impossible) in normal circumstances. As modern exploration increases in capability, more ancient secrets have been revealed. Now, at least 50 warrior remains have been discovered buried in the bottom of the cenote.
7. Mount Everest
Mount Everest is famous as the Earth’s highest land peak, but it is also something of a macabre vertical graveyard. Approximately 5,000 people have climbed the mountain, with a significant number of explorers, totaling around 300, failing to return. Numerous human bodies have been left on the mountain, entombed in the harsh conditions that cause ice to accumulate on the slopes. However, climatic changes are accelerating rates of ice melt in a de-glaciation process. Thus, extremely gruesome finds are now being revealed by the recession of ice.
Arms, legs, heads, and entire bodies are becoming exposed to the elements and easily found by current explorers. The challenge of removing the bodies has previously been such that attempts to recover remains and take them off the mountain just meant there might be more bodies left on the slopes at the end of the mission. Instead of the world’s tallest land peak being an ethereal destination, it is more of a somber “graveyard in the clouds,” as the BBC has dubbed the great mountain. Many of the bodies have turned up at Khumbu Icefall, a place so dangerous that 16 people were killed in one ice fall incident in 2014. Certain bodies on Everest have become famous as macabre makeshift trail markers, known by the gear they wore.
Antarctica, the frozen continent, is not just a remote wilderness destination. It is also a natural morgue, a storehouse of frozen bodies of explorers who failed to survive the harsh and changing elements of the Antarctic ice-scape. Antarctic conditions have claimed many lives, not just from exposure to the cold but also from entrapment, starvation and the risk of falling into crevasses, some hundreds of feet in depth and concealed by snow. As in many extreme environments, a significant portion of the bodies of those deceased in Antarctica have been left behind.
Furthermore, the shifting nature of the icy Antarctic landscape means that bodies often end up far from where they originated. Such is the case of British explorer Robert Falcon Scott, who attempted to be the first to get to the South Pole in 1912. They reached their destination, but had been beaten by Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen. The bodies of Scott and two explorers were found (left behind, but later moved with the ice), while two others were never found. Mysterious Antarctic body discoveries include that of the 175-year-old remains of a young woman of Indigenous Chilean origin on Livingston Island. As with Everest, climatic changes and shifting ice should reveal many more bodies in the years to come.
5. The Sedlec Ossuary, Czech Republic
The Czech Republic is home to one of Europe’s most chilling ancient boneyards, thanks to a strange twist in church history that created a bizarre spectacle, the likes of which exist nowhere else in the world. The Sedlec Ossuary contains the skeletons of between 40,000 to 70,00 individuals, collecting skeletons since being constructed in the 1400s. People desiring the honor of burial in the church’s cemetery wanted to be laid here to rest given the historic scattering of soil from the tomb of the Grave of the Lord in Jerusalem in the 13th century by Abbot Henry, the Abbot of the Sedlec Monastery.
Once over 30,000 people had been placed onsite, room began to run scarce, prompting remains to be placed into a crypt. The year 1870 saw local woodcarver Frantisek Rint hired to turn the massive collection of bones into artwork, which he did. An intricate range of displays are present, made of the bones of the deceased, including the coat of arms of the Schwarzenberg family and even a chandelier made entirely from dead people’s bones. While the church is quite small, the array of bones and the artwork fashioned out of them remain a grand attraction to visitors looking for a darker experience of travel in Europe.
4. The Detroit Funeral Home Bodies
Two funeral homes in Detroit became the center of a disturbing scandal when the remains of infants were found stashed on premises for multiple years. Initially, the Cantrell Funeral Home in Detroit was forced to close down on account of its terrible operational conditions. Six months after the shuttering, the building was found to contain the remains of no less than 11 infants, all gruesomely stashed in the ceiling. Clearly, cutting corners with body disposal in bizarre ways does not pay.
As if that grotesque find was not enough, the Perry Funeral Home in Detroit became the next epicenter of funeral home misconduct in the area, also leading to a slew of bodies being found. Just one week after the Cantrell scandal, the remains of 63 infants and fetuses were found stuffed away, some in boxes and others placed in freezers. A number of the bodies were from infants deceased since 2015, resulting from improper disposal and failure to create proper records, as noted by the Detroit Police Department and inspectors from the Michigan Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs. This resulted in Perry Funeral Home being shut down as well.
3. Joshua Tree National Monument Discoveries
Joshua Tree National Monument falls within the Mohave Desert and is located in Southern California. Known for its bizarre ancient drought-resisting trees, the site is also a place where bodies have been found with uncanny frequency. The same is true for the surrounding arid landscape of the Mohave lying outside the monument. A variety of reasons for the continual discoveries of bodies in the desert around the monument (as well as those found within) has included accidental deaths as well as those resulting from criminal activity.
Dumping bodies in the desert has become the modus operandi for certain criminals, while those unprepared for travel in the desert are tempting fate should they become disoriented in the hot and bleak landscape. The number of people who end up missing on public land in the United States is a matter of growing concern, but the distinguishing characteristic of Joshua Tree National Monument is the number of times that bodies of missing people have resurfaced. The shifting sands means that bodies concealed may once again be visible. Despite many bone pile discoveries, one man was lucky enough to be found close to death, thanks to the vultures that were circling him as he lay against a rock.
2. The US-Mexico Border Bodies
Much talk has occurred regarding illegal immigration between the United States and Mexico, but a stark reality of the situation is the sheer number of dead bodies being discovered in the border regions. The effort made by those undertaking illegal immigration attempts poses a significant threat to personal safety given the harshness of climatic conditions, numerous wilderness related natural hazards, and rampant violence associated with illegal activity in the area. Brooks County, Texas is one of the worst hotspots for discoveries of human bodies, often those of people who died from exposure. This one area is responsible for around 33% of all bodies found in Texas since 2009.
Ranch owners patrolling expansive grasslands at the border between Texas and Mexico have been particularly shocked by the finds of skeletons in the dirt, having failed to survive the crossing. Brooks County may be a hotspot, but the problem of border crossing deaths extends all across the Southern United States where the Mexican border is met. Between 1998 and 2018, there were 7,505 deaths recorded along the border, according to U.S. Customs Border Patrol, with 2,773 turning up along the border between 2011 and 2018, including 1,641 being found in Texas.
1. Roopkund Lake, Nandi Devi National Park
India is not all tropics and jungle. The north of India contains many frozen heights, including Nanda Devi, India’s second highest mountain, located in the state of Uttarakhand and forming part of the Garhwal Himalayas. Nanda Devi National Park commemorates this 25,643-foot peak and also contains the mysterious and eerie Roopkund Lake. In this nearly permanently frozen Indian lake that thaws out for a just a month each summer, a British forest guard patrolling in 1942 made a strange find: human remains, reduced to skeletons, situated in the lake and at the edges. By summer, a significantly higher number of skeletons materialized. Some of the skeletons were floating, while more washed up on shore. Eventually, the total number of skeletons found grew to around 300.
Yet more unsettling were the findings that some of the skeletons still bore a degree of flesh. However, these skeletons were not those of the recently deceased. National Geographic team members recovered 30 skeletons and worked with geneticists from the Center for Cellular and Molecular Biology at Hyderabad, finding around 70% of the skeletons were of Iranian relation, the remainder being of locally associated Indian descent. In an intersection of archeology, forensic analysis, and meteorology, injuries on the bodies (including damage to heads as well as shoulders) were found to indicate a lethal hailstorm as the cause of the mass mortality.
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