The Edge Effect

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Niche Marketing to the Deceased Geek

Today at lunch Christina and I came up with a brilliant plan that is going to make us gazillionaires that the rest of you will resent and hate with the envy of a thousand green-burning suns.

Yeah, I'm in St Louis right now hanging out with Christina, it's quite nice. But back to the story...

Among other things, we were talking about the ethics of burial archaeology and donating bodies to science. It came up that we are both planning to donate our bodies, but they are unlikely to be used by archaeologists. Beyond that, the kinds of data that archaeologists want to get from burials can't really be produced by any number of donated bodies.

That's when it hit me. Set up a special cemetery and mortuary company specifically for people who would like to donate their bodies for future study. It would certainly be a niche market, but the possibilities are nearly endless. The entire cemetery would be maintained specifically for archaeologists (and students in related fields) to excavate in the future. No legal problems and no ethical qualms because the interred people would have signed waivers and statements of understanding.

For a nominal management fee, a person donating herself to the project would make any number of choices including how long they should remain buried, special embalming treatments to selectively preserve types of tissue, special treatments to reproduce prehistoric techniques, presence of grave goods, depth and soil conditions around interment, what type of study they would like to be exhumed for, etc ad infinitum.

In addition, each body would leave behind an extensive file documenting physical condition, lifestyle, injuries, cause of death, and extremely detailed life-histories.

This certainly doesn't replace the data that archaeologists like to gather from prehistoric burials, but it would have some applications. Taphonomic studies would certainly be the most likely, but with some creativity other questions may be answerable through this project. In one to five hundred years, there may well be questions about bodies exhumed from 20th century cemeteries. My cemetery would provide an ideal control. In other cases, archaeologically known burials may be reproduced in the 21st century and excavated in the 23rd in order to test our understandings of how they were made.

Probably the main advantage in a half millennium will be that the various nationalities, ethnic groups, and other social segments represented in our current society will be distant memories. Excavating standard burials of these folks may still be taboo, but my cemetery project will undoubtedly include many people buried exactly as they would have been in any other cemetery. Having left explicit instructions that they don't mind being exhumed by archaeologists though, the 25th century scientists will finally be able to excavate the kinds of burials that intrigue them.

Surely this plan still has some kinks to work out. Heck I haven't even come up with a snappy name yet. But I think it's sure to take off as a big thing. In fact, I'd be quite surprised if in addition to the gazillions of dollars this makes me I don't also get some medals and awards for being so brilliant.

Since you guys are my friends and loyal colleagues, I'll let you in on the action. I'll hold an IPO later in the month and you all can bid for part of the action. I suppose I'll start somewhere around $5000 per share of the business with around 100,000 shares available. That's a real steal in 2006 dollars and it'll get you in on the ground floor before this thing takes off.

If you want to get a head start, you can go ahead and send me a box of cash or wire it to my paypal account.