Immurement: An Ancient Burial Practice - Realtors Beware!

Services for Real Estate Pros with Fresh Eyes For Your Home

Have you ever heard of the ancient burial practice called "Immurement"? I'm not a Realtor nor am I a Graverobber, but I was absolutely fascinated to learn about this.

 Similar to "Interment" which is the act of laying the dead to rest, Immurement  is the burying or concealing of items in the structure of a house.  Apparently, it is an ancient practice that cuts across many cultures and civilizations.  The most famous example of immurement practice is the burying of important objects in the pyramids of the Egyptian Pharoahs so they would have what they need and love in the afterlife.

But, ritual objects have also been found in the walls of Roman villas and ordinary houses during archeological excavations. And, the history of Freemasonry traces its origins to the rituals of concealment by masons, sealing up secrets in their buildings.  Objects were often hidden away as a way to bring good luck to inhabitants.  This was actually the case in Ireland, where it was common when building a home to bury a horse skull in the floor or under the hearth, a Celtic practice which dates back centuries.  The entire skull, or other times just a section of the jaw was used.  And in England, dead cats were often found under floors of houses to ward off malicious spirits.  OMG, TMI right???

It all sounds like ancient history, until you or your work crew find something.  A recent article in the New York Times Real Estate Section, reported such a practice right here in Westchester County.  A family in Tarrytown New York, began a gut renovation of their 1843 home, known as the Ice House as it was used to store ice in the 19th century.  During the demolition, several objects appeared: a clay pipe, a tobacco pouch, a child's flash card,some hand painted ceramic tiles and a whiskey jug.  When this house was built, Abraham Lincoln was still a lawyer!

We've all heard of the term time capsules being buried in structures and some owners and their crews just leave these finds "well enough alone".  In fact, some contractors even encourage their clients to create and leave a time capsule somewhere in the house to be discovered when the walls are opened up in 50 to 100 years.  As long as the house is still standing, of course.

During the gut renovation of our 1906 farm house, we actually did find something buried in the walls.  It was a small silver locket which we assumed had been lost by a former owner.  Since we are the 4th owners and extensive renovations had been done once before in the 100 years that the house is standing, we assumed that it belonged to one of the previous owners and just got lost through the floorboards.  But now that I better understand the practice of "immurement" I'd like to think that it was intentional.  We actually kept the locket in place for good luck and given the number of years we've been in this house and enjoyed it, I see it as a piece of buried treasure that has kept us safe and sound.


Comments (22)

Ron and Alexandra Seigel
Napa Consultants - Carpinteria, CA
Luxury Real Estate Branding, Marketing & Strategy


What a lovely post, and I am glad you kept the locket in place for good luck!  A

Jan 27, 2017 12:27 PM
Myrl Jeffcoat
Sacramento, CA
Greater Sacramento Realtor - Retired

"Immurement" - I've never heard the term.  And, I've learned something new today!

Jan 27, 2017 04:06 PM
Chris Ann Cleland
Long and Foster Real Estate - Gainesville, VA
Associate Broker, Bristow, VA

This is not something I was familiar with until now.  Fascinating stuff.

Jan 28, 2017 10:47 AM
Chris Ann Cleland
Long and Foster Real Estate - Gainesville, VA
Associate Broker, Bristow, VA

Featured in the group:  BARTENDER, MAKE IT A DOUBLE.

Jan 28, 2017 10:47 AM
Joanna Cohlan
Fresh Eyes For Your Home - Chappaqua, NY
Designing, Decorating & Staging Westchester Homes

Thank you so much Chris Ann Cleland for featuring this in the most fun group! I agree, this is really fascinating and you never know what you can find during an inspection or a renovation!

Jan 28, 2017 04:30 PM
Joanna Cohlan
Fresh Eyes For Your Home - Chappaqua, NY
Designing, Decorating & Staging Westchester Homes

Hey there Ron and Alexandra Seigel and Myrl Jeffcoat - I did find this information fascinating and again, you never know what can turn up during a renovation or even during an inspection!

Jan 28, 2017 04:31 PM
Michael Jacobs
Pasadena, CA
Los Angeles Pasadena 818.516.4393

Hi Joanna --- ahh, the positive side of hoarding is revealed.  Seriously, thank you for the lesson.  It explains a lot of what is and can be found when we may least expect it.  Ahh, the discoveries....

Jan 29, 2017 09:11 AM
Joanna Cohlan
Fresh Eyes For Your Home - Chappaqua, NY
Designing, Decorating & Staging Westchester Homes

I know, and yes, never thought about it as hoarding Michael Jacobs but you definitely have a point!

Jan 29, 2017 09:49 AM
Patricia Feager, MBA, CRS, GRI,MRP
Selling Homes Changing Lives

 The practice of "immurement," is a fascinating topic! I enjoyed the history lesson and stories you shared. When I was a Girl Scout Leader helping my girls work on badges for the history of our town, we took a guided tour with an elderly lady from the community who took us to where the original ice house was situated. As we stood on raw land, she told us when the ice house was taken down they found many unexpected treasures hidden inside that structure. Now after hearing your story about the ice house in NY, I'm convinced it must have acted like a vault in those days!

Joanna Cohlan - I love reading about all the places you have traveled and the wisdom you have gained over time. You're a wealth of information and greatly appreciated. 

Jan 29, 2017 05:25 PM
Beth Bromund
Coldwell Banker Weir Manuel - Rochester, MI
REALTOR (248) 651-3500

I'm very familiar with the practice, but had never heard the term immurement.  Thanks for the enjoyable post.

Jan 29, 2017 06:23 PM
Joanna Cohlan
Fresh Eyes For Your Home - Chappaqua, NY
Designing, Decorating & Staging Westchester Homes

You are so kind Patricia Feager - you know, I think that one gains knowledge which hopefully morphs to wisdom by living life in a large way.  The more you are willing to expose yourself to and explore, the larger your circles, your breath and your life become.  That being said, I do read the NYTimes daily and this interesting story about the ice house popped up and I just wanted to share what I read.  Glad you enjoyed - and btw, you too have wisdom and I often feel the presence of the Buddha when I read your posts!

You are so welcome Beth Bromund and thank you for stopping by!

Jan 30, 2017 07:53 PM
Beth Atalay
Cam Realty and Property Management - Clermont, FL
Cam Realty of Clermont FL

Joanna Cohlan, in the Turkish culture, they bury something gold(pure gold), I actually left behind a couple when I sold my previous homes as well as my sister and mom. Interesting stuff!
Thank you so much for sharing this post with us, truly enjoyed it.

Jan 31, 2017 01:12 PM
Debb Janes EcoBroker and Bernie Stea JD
ViewHomes of Clark County - Nature As Neighbors - Camas, WA
REALTORS® in Clark County, WA

We found a coyote skull buried in a garden on our property. Needless to say, it is no longer there. Lol. Thanks for the fun and informative post. ;) D

Jan 31, 2017 02:04 PM
Joanna Cohlan
Fresh Eyes For Your Home - Chappaqua, NY
Designing, Decorating & Staging Westchester Homes

Hi there Beth Atalay and Debb Janes EcoBroker and Bernie Stea JD - who knew that this practice had a name to it? I learned something as well!

Jan 31, 2017 03:56 PM
Dorie Dillard Austin TX
Coldwell Banker Realty ~ 512.750.6899 - Austin, TX
NW Austin ~ Canyon Creek and Spicewood/Balcones

Good evening Joanna Cohlan ,

Why isn't this post featured?? How interesting! The practice of "immurement," is a fascinating topic! I never knew this practice had a name to it!!

Jan 31, 2017 05:21 PM
Kathy Streib
Cypress, TX
Home Stager/Redesign

Hi Joanna- I'd not heard of Immurement but I think it's fascinating.  Oddly enough we left something of an immurement in one of our homes in Houston.  We'd turned one of the bedrooms into a paneled study.  Larry built a hidden space for some of his guns and we put other items in the space.  We found a brass sconce to place on the panel so we could open it.  

Before we left, we removed the antique guns, silver and other treasures, but we forgot to tell the new homeowners of the hidden space. We always wondered if the new owners ever discovered this space. 

Jan 31, 2017 06:03 PM
Debbie Reynolds, C21 Platinum Properties
Platinum Properties- (931)771-9070 - Clarksville, TN
The Dedicated Clarksville TN Realtor-(931)320-6730

I have not heard of this either but can see why it was a practice then. I don't like parting with my special pieces so if I had to choose what to leave behind it probably wouldn't be very special.

Feb 06, 2017 07:11 AM
Joanna Cohlan
Fresh Eyes For Your Home - Chappaqua, NY
Designing, Decorating & Staging Westchester Homes

Thank you so much Dorie Dillard - I guess the powers that be did not think it worthy?  It is an interesting topic and we never knew what this practice was actually called did we Kathy Streib and Debbie Reynolds ?   I have also heard of leaving a message in a bottle, sort of as a time capsule.

Feb 06, 2017 12:55 PM
Sheri Sperry - MCNE®
Coldwell Banker Realty - Sedona, AZ
(928) 274-7355 ~ YOUR Solutions REALTOR®

Hi Joanna Cohlan - I learned something new today.  Most people have heard of the stories of King Tut and many have seen the treasures, but what about your own house!  I watched 4 of my homes being built and never thought to bury something in the walls.  I wish I would have after reading your lovely post.

Feb 21, 2017 05:05 AM
Sheila Anderson
Referral Group Incorporated - East Brunswick, NJ
The Real Estate Whisperer Who Listens 732-715-1133

Good morning Joanna. I never heard this term before but I have left things in opened walls in homes I have owned. 

Feb 21, 2017 07:19 AM