1. Health

What Is the Fear of Being Buried Alive?


Updated September 28, 2011

Question: What Is the Fear of Being Buried Alive?

Although the word literally translates to "fear of graves," the fear of being buried alive is known as taphophobia. The phobia is related to other death phobias including the fear of death, the fear of tombstones and the fear of ghosts. Yet the fear of being buried alive is unusual in that it has a historical precedent. At one time, there was little to go on when declaring a person dead. Those in deep comas could show no detectable signs of life, only to awaken hours or days later.


According to urban legend site Snopes.com, history is dotted with documented cases of people being buried alive. Some awoke in the mortuary or on a dissection table, while others were discovered when the family tomb was reopened. The fear of being buried alive was so strong in the late 19th and early 20th centuries that elaborate systems were developed to ensure that someone buried alive could be rescued. Bells, flags and other devices were rigged to ropes inside coffins. Cemetery employees or hired servants were posted outside newly dug graves to rescue anyone who deployed such a safety system. Urban legend holds that such phrases as "saved by the bell" and "dead ringer" originated with these systems, although this may not be true.

Even today, some people suffering from taphophobia employ safety measures. According to Snopes.com, as recently as 1995 elaborate safety coffins were on the market, complete with beepers, oxygen tanks, heart stimulators and other equipment. Today's sophisticated medical technology makes live burial extremely rare, but it has happened.


American Psychiatric Association. (1994). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (4th Ed.). Washington, DC: Author.

  1. About.com
  2. Health
  3. Phobias
  4. Introduction to Phobias
  5. Phobias A-H
  6. Fear of Being Buried Alive

©2014 About.com. All rights reserved.

We comply with the HONcode standard
for trustworthy health
information: verify here.