These magnificent hanging coffins or “cliff burials” are an ancient custom most widely practiced by the Bo people of southern China. The caskets are carved from a single whole piece of wood and either placed in small caves on the cliff face or lain on natural or man-made projections on the face of the mountain.
Over 280 of these hanging coffins have been reported to hang in Gongxian County of China’s Sichuan Province, home to the ancient Bo people. Though the history of this culture has largely been lost, this last remaining relic is intriguing and highly treasured.
Similar burials have been seen across Cambodia and even in some parts of North America. North American native tribes are said to believe that by elevating the coffins, rather than bury them underground, the soul is able to linger and watch over the tribe until it’s time to “move on”.
Though this custom isn’t seen in modern cultures any longer, the sentiment isn’t unlike what lies behind the common custom of placing cremation ashes in an urn on the mantle, or utilizing hanging urns to allow the ashes to disperse naturally when the time is right. Both keep a relic of a person who has died near, perhaps the spirit watching over surviving loved ones. The eventual scattering of ashes also implies that loved ones are able to slowly let go and release the spirit.