Why are graves dug 6 feet deep?


The expression "6 feet deep" is a common euphemism for death . It is based on the idea that the standard depth of the grave is 6 feet. But are all the graves in the cemetery that deep?

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There are many theories and explanations for the belief that graves are always 6 feet deep. Some of them are more credible than others.

This article will discuss the possible origins of the "6 feet deep" belief. It will also show whether modern graves are actually 6 feet deep.

Why 6 feet?

The idea that graves should always be six feet deep has been around for a long time. There is no consensus on the origin of this idea. Here are some theories as to why people may have chosen to bury their dead at a depth of six feet.

Plague of London 1665

In 1665, London officials published a pamphlet they hoped would help stop the outbreak of the plague or Black Death . Some think this was the origin of the 6-foot standard.

There was a section in the brochure titled "The Funeral of the Dead." This section contained a directive that "… all graves must be at least 6 feet deep."

Unfortunately, the brochure does not explain the reason for the 6-foot mandate. Officials may have believed that 6 feet of dirt would prevent the animals from digging up the carcasses.

Londoners were unaware that the plague was spread to rats through fleas, so it is possible that they also thought that a deep burial would prevent the spread of the disease.

There are several reasons why this is probably not the source for the standard 6ft.

Between 1665 and 1666, there were about 100,000 victims of the plague. Many were buried in mass graves called "pits of plague". These tombs were sometimes 20 feet deep or more.

The orders didn't last long either. This is because the outbreak was extinguished in 1666 after the Great Fire of London. Therefore, it is unlikely that the "six foot requirement" has had enough time to become a tradition.

While the London Plague Order of 1665 may have left the lasting impression that graves are always 6 feet deep, this is unlikely.

Gravedigger Safety

Some people think that six feet was just a safety issue. Deeper graves may need reinforcement to prevent collapse. This would be especially true if the soil was sandy.

Average gravedigger height

Depth could also make digging a grave easier. From a height of 6 feet, a medium-sized gravedigger could still scoop up dirt with a shovel. It could also come and go without a ladder.

So as not to disturb the corpse

Grave robbery or "corpse kidnapping" was a major problem in the early 1800s. This was especially true for England and Scotland.

Medical schools in these areas required bodies for anatomical research. Some people complied with the demand by digging up fresh corpses.

In cemeteries, there were many ways to scare off grave robbers, including:

  • Heavy stone slabs
  • Stone boxes
  • Closed vaults
  • Morsaphs, iron and stone devices used to protect graves

People can also bury bodies 6 feet deep to prevent theft.

There was also a concern that animals could disturb the graves. Burying the body 6 feet deep could have been a way to prevent animals from smelling decomposing bodies.

A body buried 6 feet deep will also be protected from accidental disturbances like plowing.


The six foot rule could be just one way to protect bodies. Deep burial is a practical way to deter grave robbers and animals.

To prevent the spread of the disease.

People did not always understand how diseases spread. During disease outbreaks, they may fear that bodies will transmit disease.

While it is true that some diseases such as cholera and tuberculosis can infect people who handle bodies, this is not true for other diseases such as bubonic plague.

However, this may be one of the reasons that people thought bodies should be buried 6 feet deep.

Folklore / Golden Rule

An old rule is that the depth of the grave must match the length of the deceased. This rule of thumb is of unknown origin.

In the 17th and 18th centuries, the average height of men was 5.48 feet. So it's possible that six feet is just a good rule of thumb.

Are the graves 6 feet deep?

There is no national rule that graves must be 6 feet deep. The rules vary from state to state and city to city.

In New York State, for example, there is no state rule for depth of the grave. However, New York City requires at least 3 feet between the ground and the top of a casket or casket. If the body is in a concrete vault, it should be only two feet underground.

In neighboring Pennsylvania, the top of a vault or grave must be at least 1.5 feet below ground. When there is no vault or grave, there should be 2 feet between the top of the coffin and the surface. The two legs are also the rule for "green" or natural burials where there is no coffin.

In the United States, there are no national guidelines for burial depth. Instead, each state has its own rules. Sometimes states leave this to the discretion of cities, local municipalities, or even cemeteries.

Most of the graves excavated today are not 6 feet deep. For individual graves, the depth is approximately 4 feet closer to normal.

The exceptions are double or even triple deep cards. In these areas, the coffins are "folded" vertically at the same burial site. A single grave at one of these sites can be 7 to 12 feet deep.


It is not clear where the idea of "6 feet under water" came from. This may have been done for the safety of the gravedigger or to facilitate the excavation of graves. People may also have believed that it would prevent anxiety from the body or prevent the spread of disease.

In the United States, there are no national rules governing the depth of graves. States often have their own rules. Generally speaking, most of the tombs excavated today are only 4 feet deep.

Frequently asked questions

  • Most of the time, this is not the case. The term "6 feet deep" is a euphemism for dead and buried. The term can be traced back to the London plague of 1665, when the mayor of London ordered all graves to be at least six feet deep, assuming this would prevent the spread of the disease.

  • In the United States, the laws governing depth of burial differ from state to state. In Texas, for example, graves must be deep enough for the coffin to be covered with two feet of soil. New York must be at least three feet from the ground. Many other states require as little as 18 inches of soil and sometimes less.

  • The traditional term is "gravedigger", although many consider the name disgusting. Today, these cemetery workers are often referred to as burial keepers.

  • Technically, only three US states prohibit home burial: California, Indiana, and Washington. In some other states, home burial is only allowed with the participation of a funeral director. Most states do not have a law prohibiting home burial, but check with local authorities (including your health department and local funeral commission) to make sure you are complying with state laws governing all burials. .

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