Throughout the world, death and the rituals that surround it are steeped in taboos.

Death is celebrated, embraced and feared.

Around death and the dead, cultures put in place diverse restrictions and practices associated with clothing, food and ritual.

These webpages explore what happens to us when we die and the different ways we deal with death.

Death is certain, since it is inevitable, but also uncertain, since its diagnosis is sometimes fallible. Jacques-Benigne Winslow, Danish Anatomist: Morte incertae signa, 1740

In Australia today, many people find being in the presence of death frightening and unwelcome. Death is often hidden, sanitised and orderly. The Australian Museum has developed this website to accompany an exhibition designed to help explore some of the taboos surrounding death and explain what happens to our bodies when we die.

Death begins when the heart stops beating. Deprived of oxygen, a cascade of cellular death commences, beginning with brain cells and ending with skin cells. Death is a process rather than an event. Specifying the moment of death usually involves deciding on a point from which there can be no return.

In most Australian states, the current law describes death as:

'either irreversible cessation of circulation of blood in the body of the person or irreversible cessation of all function of the brain of the person'.

While our current definition is based on extensive medical knowledge, history suggests that any definition is far from permanent.

Signs of death


What happens after death?

Disposing of the dead

Remembering the dead

Virtual Autopsy

Follow a human autopsy process from start to finish including an external examination, opening the body, viewing internal organs, removing the organs and weighing them, removing the brain, replacing all organs and closing the body.

Play now