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This is an ecological alternative to cremation or burial. The corpse is frozen in liquid nitrogen and then shattered into powder by ultrasonic vibration before being buried in a biodegradeable box in a shallow grave. Green campaigners believe the technique could ease the crowding in graveyards and the increasingly harmful emissions from cremations.

The inventor, the Swedish biologist Susanne Wiigh-Masak, claims that the process is good for the environment because the powder (which is essentially compost) breaks down in the soil more thoroughly and quickly than by conventional burial. She suggests that relatives plant a tree or bush above the grave as a long-term memorial.

The first promatorium is to be opened in Sweden in 2006. Local authorities in the UK and elsewhere have also shown interest in the technique.

Ms Wiigh-Masak created promession from Italian promessione, to swear to the truth. The place where the funeral is held and the process takes place has been named promatorium, a blend of promession and crematorium. The resulting powder is called promains, by analogy with the US term cremains for the ashes of a cremated person, itself a blend created from cremation remains.

A town in Sweden plans to become the first place in the world where corpses will be disposed of by freeze-drying, as an environmentally friendly alternative to cremation or burial. Jonkoping, in southern Sweden, is to turn its crematorium into a so-called promatorium next year.

Daily Telegraph, 28 Sep. 2005

But if you like the idea of giving back to the planet after you leave, “promession,” a body-disposal method developed by Swedish biologist Susanne Wiigh-Masak, may be the way to go.

Popular Science, 1 Feb. 2006

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The English language is forever changing. New words appear; old ones fall out of use or alter their meanings. World Wide Words tries to record at least a part of this shifting wordscape by featuring new words, word histories, words in the news, and the curiosities of native English speech.

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Last modified: 13 May 2006.