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Memento Mori: Remembering the Dead Among Us

The dearly departed live on in this eye-popping collection of ossuaries, burial caves, and death festivals from around the world.



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Paul Koudounaris is no stranger to the dead.

The seasoned photographer’s previous releases include Heavenly Bodies and Empire of Death, two visual collections of catacombs and Catholic relic sites in Europe.

In his newest tome, Koundounaris raises the morbid bar. Memento Mori: The Dead Among Us captures 250 ceremonial locations from 30 different countries stretched across four continents.

The fascinating collection serves up a stunning portrait of how human remains are used in devotional and decorative ceremonies throughout the world. High in the Andes Mountains of Bolivia, communities celebrate the good luck skulls kept in their homes with Festividad de las Ñatitas or the “Feast of the Little Pug-Nosed Ones.” The charmed remains are festooned with flowers, with unlit cigarettes wedged between teeth and Andean caps stretched over each cranium to protect the skulls from the sun and wind.

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Meanwhile, on the Indonesian island of Sulawesi one can enter massive burial caves, where the bones of the dearly departed are stacked and arranged for all to see. Some Indonesian households also maintain the tradition of living side-by-side with the mummified corpses of their deceased relatives. The bodies are dressed daily, and included in domestic routines.

Memento Mori provides a killer dose of macabre armchair tourism. It also offers a thought-provoking glimpse into the different ways cultures confront death. The big sleep may be taboo throughout the West, yet for much of the rest of the world, dying remains a highly visible aspect of day-to-day life.

Pull back the veil of various death sites across the globe in the slideshow above. Then crack open a copy of Memento Mori: The Dead Among Us for yourself, available now from Amazon and Thames & Hudson.

Photo courtesy of Thames & Hudson / Paul Koudounaris