Being buried alive ranks pretty high on the list of terrible ways to die, and it used to happen a lot more than it does now. In fact, in the earlier days of medicine it was much more difficult to determine if someone was actually dead – or just in a coma, emaciated, or paralyzed.
Starting around the 18th century, suspected corpses were subjected to abusive tests to establish death. It ranged from the fairly benign nipple pinching all the way up to hot pokers inserted in their rectums.
If no complaints registered on that last test, it must certainly be safe to presume them dead.
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