Skip to content

Ask Your Funeral Director: What happens to bones during cremation?

‘During cremation, the body is exposed to extremely high temperatures.’
Jason Meidl is the funeral director at Creston Valley Funeral Services.

By Jason Meidl, Funeral Director at Creston Valley Funeral Services

Recently, I attended the annual general meeting for the Creston Valley Hospice Society where we talked about our accomplishments over the past year: from recruiting new board members, opening an office space, to the volunteers putting in many hours of time with those that need them. It stood out to me how dedicated the volunteers are to hospice and the services it provides. My hat is off to them! I know how important they are to our community and am thankful for their willingness to serve.

“What happens to bones during and after flame cremation?” - Phil

During flame cremation, all organic matter in the body is incinerated. However, not all of the body’s components are destroyed. Human bones are made mainly of soft tissue called collagen and calcium phosphate. Since collagen is a soft tissue, it will not withstand the extreme conditions of flame cremation. However, calcium phosphate helps strengthen and harden bones, so that it will remain in the bone fragments left after the cremation process. Therefore, the chemical composition of human ashes is mostly calcium phosphate with small amounts of minerals like potassium, sodium, and carbon in the form of carbonate. These bone fragments are then processed by the crematorium staff to create a coarse, grey powder. However, the colour of the ashes can vary depending on cremation conditions. During cremation, the body is exposed to extremely high temperatures, but bones need to reach a temperature higher than 800 degrees Celsius to produce lighter-coloured ashes. Bones reaching temperatures under 760 degrees Celsius will likely be black or a dusty brown.

“What happens to metal during a cremation?” - Julia

This is a question often asked of funeral homes and crematoriums. Once the cremation process is completed there are what we call non-organic materials that are left behind. These might include base metals such as titanium ( hip and knee replacements), steel, cobalt, palladium, and platinum (used in various other types of medical implants), and semi-precious metals such as gold and silver ( from dental work ). There are companies that specialize in the recycling of these materials that work directly with crematoriums. A titanium hip, for example, can cost anywhere from $3,000 to $10,000 to purchase new, the salvageable value is much less; a crematorium receives only about 75 cents from recycling the part. But, repurposed, that titanium can be made into aircraft parts, while gold is often re-used in electronics. Recently we partnered with Kootenay Lake Crematorium and their new ownership to have our cremations done here in Creston, and one of the first things we did was to ensure that there was a recycling program being used with a reputable recycling company. Once to twice a year the recycled materials are sent away and then the money the crematorium receives will be donated back into our community through our local charitable giving program.

Funeral Fact

The gravestone of John Reni, a house painter who died in 1832 at the age of 33, comprises a rectangular carved 285-letter acrostic puzzle. From the the larger H on the centre square, the sentence “Here lies John Renie” may be in read in any direction-in 46,000 different ways. It is likely that he carved it himself and it is said his intention was to confuse the Devil, ensuring his passage into heaven.

Keep the questions coming to!

READ MORE: Ask Your Funeral Director: Is having a funeral service important?