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Eerie truth behind woman's mysterious find inside cave

The woman stumbled upon the cave while browsing Google Earth.

The way different cultures bury their dead varies significantly depending on where in the world they live.

In parts of India, the deceased are paraded through the streets, dressed in colours that represent their virtues. Historically, Nordic countries have embraced water burials, either laying coffins on top of cliffs faced toward the sea or setting bodies adrift in "death ships". In Australia, it's common practice to be placed in a coffin and buried in the ground or cremated.

In the Philippines however, as one inquisitive woman found out by chance while browsing Google Earth, the Sagada people have long practised an extraordinary, ancient ritual, dating back some 2000 years.

A woman's Google Earth screen shot of the ancient burial sight at the Philippines is seen.
An eerie sight stumbled upon on Google Earth has been revealed as an ancient burial ground in the Philippines. Source: Google Earth / Facebook.

This custom, rarely performed nowadays, but with a dense, fascinating history, involves placing bodies into hand-carved coffins which are then lashed and pinned to the cliffs and caves at Lumiang.

Posting the snap on Facebook, the woman's find prompted an interesting discussion about the centuries-old practice.

Hanging bodies 'brought them closer to the spirit realm'

The Kankanaey people of Sagada feared being placed in the ground, concerned that water would seep into coffins, that hungry animals might find and eat corpses, or worse, that other tribes from different parts of the country would steal the deceased's heads as trophies.

So instead, bodies were hung from these cliffs with the belief that it brought the dead closer to the spirit realm, and to the energy of their ancestors.

Coffins are seen pinned to the side of a cliff face in Sagada, Philippines.
This custom involves placing bodies into hand-carved coffins which are then lashed and pinned to the cliffs and caves at Lumiang. Source: Getty

Interestingly, the higher up the mountain, the smaller the coffins appear to be. This can be attributed to the fact that older remaining coffins were made a lot more compact, due to the belief that "one should exit the world as one entered it", meaning the person had to be placed in the foetal position, according to Burials and Beyond.

Often, a person would carve their own coffins ahead of their death.

Though at first they look simple in appearance, the coffins were fitted with all sorts of intricate designs on both the inside and out. The height of the hanging coffin, it is believed, was greatly dependent on their status in society, with the higher one hung, the more likely it was the body inside was an elder or a more respected member of a tribe.

Ancient coffins are seen stacked upon one another at Lumiang Burial Cave, Sagada, Luzon, in the Philippines.
The practice was thought to bring the deceased closer to their ancestors by being physically elevated. Source: Getty

Bodies also 'stacked' in caves

If coffins weren't pinned and hung to cliff faces, they were placed in caves.

Traditionally, the coffins were wedged into natural crevices or stacked on top one another among the limestone. Similarly to their hanging counterparts, the higher up the coffins were placed, the more likely it was the deceased inside was a significant figure.

The Lumiang cave has around 100 coffins still visible to this day, some stacked nine bodies high. Estimates claim that a number of the remaining burials could have been in place, wedged along the cliffside trapped in time, for between 500 to 2000 years.

Wiew showing hanging coffins in the rock mountain and trees can be seen on the background.
The coffins were fitted with all sorts of intricate designs. Source: Getty

According to Burials and Beyond, the tradition is still practised by some tribes today.

"The tradition is kept alive today by the Appli people, a subdivision of the Igorots, who occasionally bury elders in the traditional manner, but for how much longer, no one can be sure," the site said.

Tourists warned of dangerous trek to site

People wanting to experience the site themselves have been warned by authorities that it's imperative to carry binoculars, never walk directly under the coffins — as they have been known to fall, due to their advanced age — keep a respectable distance from them in general and never touch them.

From Manila, by bus or car, head north to Mountain Province to reach the ancient spot. During summer, the trip will take approximately 12-13 hours to reach Sagada. In the rain, the travel time is longer and the roads have also been known to become very dangerous and may close due to landslides.

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