Grave matters: burial sites in Skåne

It is often said that the past never remains buried—but that’s perhaps only because we humans are so keen on digging it back up again, if only figuratively.

Skåne has long been a hotspot for graveyard tourism, due to its playing host to numerous burial sites of great antiquity, all the way back to vikingatiden (“the time of the vikings”) and beyond. Many of these are of course only accessible to trained archaeologists with the appropriate permits—and while allemänsrätten does ensure the right to wander the countryside (or most of it), conducting your own archaeological digs on likely-looking barrows will get you into serious trouble with the law, not to mention the landowners. Instead, stick to the better-known sites, which include the Iron Age site of Gudahagen (north of Bromölla), and a large area to the northeast of Simrishamn, to name but a few.

(There are specialist guides for this sort of stuff, with whom the Rough Planet team do not think it worth our trying to compete.)

Such sites fascinate us due to the seeming novelty of their practices and rituals—and it’s that same fascination which draws visitors to Skåne’s newer sites of burial and memorial, where changes have been underway for some time. There are still plenty of “classic” graveyards to visit, of course—Malmö is particularly well supplied, with the venerable Gamla kyrkogården, the extensive Östra kyrkogården, and the series of graveyards connected to the wedding-cake that is Skt. Pauli, to name but a few—and their history as social spaces has protected them from change to some extent.

While there are some issues to do with the accumulation of toxic chemicals in human remains, the challenges presented by graveyards are mostly to do with the amount of room they take up in large cities where space is at a premium. Over the last three decades or so, Sweden has taken measures to address this and other land-use issues, such as the reintroduction of the property tax with various exemptions and reductions: for example, large undeveloped areas (such as graveyards) which can demonstrate positive biodiversity effects—e.g. through rewilding, beekeeping and other measures—are eligible for tax relief.

More specifically, the government pushed for changes in how graves are organised—though perhaps not in the direction that was expected. While many experts pointed to the potential of efficiently stacked graves (as seen at the Montjuic Hill Cemetery in Barcelona), there has instead been a turn towards alternatives to interment, a trend of “finding one’s way back to nature”, whether through ash-spreading, ash burials or composting. Although permitted from the late 2020s, it wasn’t until the early 2040s—after some mighty advocacy from the Dust To Dust movement—that human composting and aqua cremation came to be covered by the Begravningsskatt (burial tax); however, despite the carbon levy, cremation is still the most common end-of-life practice in Sweden.

Those who seek the leading edge of death, so to speak, may want to pay a visit to one )or both!) of the inter-species cemeteries which have sprung up in the county in recent years:

The Kin Cemetery (Famnen, Malmö). The Kin Cemetery has its origins in a tidal surge on the Öresund strait—still unexplained to this day, though theories are plentiful—which caused a large number of dead and dying sea creatures to wash ashore in Malmö’s old harbour district. The site initially remained untouched (and, by all accounts, rather fragrant), until pilgrims from around the region turned it into a biodiversity loss memorial site.

On the first Sunday every month, the ocean-side Kin Cemetary chapel offers biodiversity escape-room sessions as a way to create a space for the mourning of biodiversity loss and hope for change; for the more studious, the chapel also hosts a regular lecture series on the same topic.  As with everything else at Famnen, it is entirely made with upcycled materials, characterised by its circular design with a semi-open ocean floor placed in the centre. The chapel has become a popular spot for many water-related ceremonies, such as name-giving, ash spreading, and kinship ceremonies. 

Although commonly not open to the public, you can also see the nearby aqua-cremation facility, where bodies are liquidised through alkaline hydrolysis.

(Keep in mind that all visits to Famnen must be paid for with a contribution of labour!)

The Symbiosis Cemetery. Located on the Slow Coast north of Simrishamn, The Symbiosis has taken inter-specisism to the next level. As the name indicates, the cemetery seeks to uphold human-nature balance, and so regulations are strict: although A-labelled cremations are allowed, human composting is more common (and also prioritised).

Don’t expect any detailed decorated gravestones: this cemetery would be hard to distinguish from a shoreline meadow. In recent years, the Symbiosis Cemetery has constructed an underwater section, with “seatombs” mimicking the structure of coral reefs, intended to eventually become a part of the littoral ecosystem.

During the summer months, certified divers can obtain permission to visit the the seatombs (every second Sunday). For everyone else, many of the tombs—and the flourishing sealife that has begun to populate them—can be spotted from above the water; cemetery staff offer the use of boats during quiet periods.

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