As Queen once so memorably asked, "Who wants to live forever?" Everyone, of course! Even though science is still dragging its feet on the whole immortality thing, we've got the lowdown on how to make your remains live on forever.
There's an entire sub-discipline of archaeology - the wonderfully named "archaeology of death" - that deals solely with the discovery and interpretation of ancient human remains. Over the years, archaeologists and paleontologists have discovered remains from all sorts of different eras, including the 5300-year-old Otzi the Iceman in the Alps, the 10000-year-old Kennewick Man outside Seattle, and the 3.2-million-year-old hominid Lucy in Ethiopia. These remains have all increased immeasurably our knowledge of the past, lending them significance and fame they could not have hoped to have achieved during their own lifetimes.
So the real question is - why should they have all the fun? Scientists are going to need to study something thousands, even millions, of years from now, and that something really ought to be us! So after leading a rich, long, fulfilling life, how about following a few simple steps to ensure your scientific immortality?
Get yourself mummified.
There are a bunch of natural environments that will preserve your remains after you die, and there are enough different options to appeal to all but the most discriminating customer. You can go to extraordinarily cold places and get yourself frozen, you can choose places with super low humidity, you can submerge yourself in a bog, you can go somewhere with very high salt levels, or you can just expose yourself to certain chemicals. All of these have preserved ancient men and women from as much as six thousand years ago, and you could be next!
The level of preservation in these mummies can be truly remarkable. The body up above, the fourth century BC corpse known as Tollund Man, was found in a peat bog in Denmark in 1950, and decomposition was so minimal that it was originally thought he was a recent murder victim, not an archaeological discovery. Later analysis has revealed a lot of fascinating details about his life, including the precise recipe of his last meal, a vegetable soup made of barley, linseed, gold of pleasure, knotweed, bristlegrass, and chamomile.
As for Otzi, we know what his diet was for several months before he died thanks to analysis of hair samples, and his lone surviving fingernail tells us that he was sick on three occasions in the six months before his death. We know he carried a flint knife and wore shoes so complicated that one Czech scholar concluded an expert must have cobbled them for him, and we have found fifty-seven different tattoos preserved along Otzi's spine and legs. (You might want to get any particularly embarrassing tattoos lasered off now, just to be safe.)
Of course, the real downside here is that it's not exactly pleasant to die in such a way that you'll end up mummified. Indeed - and this is a recurring theme among these ancient bodies - both Otzi and Tollund Man were most likely murdered, then left to rot. The fact that they didn't rot and ultimately achieved a form of immortality is a nice consolation, I suppose, but it doesn't really make up for the whole horrible death part.
So if you've got a bit (read: a lot) of extra cash lying around, you might want to consider what we like to call the "Tutankhamun Option", where you have yourself specially preserved after your death. This used to be a lot easier to accomplish in cultures like ancient Egypt, where mummification was the default way to handle the remains of pretty much any member of the elite class. Still, even though mummification does continue to the present day, you'll want to make sure you're not just another random dead body when future archaeologists find you. To that end...
Make yourself stand out.
Look, archaeologists are sort of like the moms of science - they're going to think you're special no matter what you do. But if you want your remains to really make a splash, it's a good idea to have something that makes you distinctive. Take Clonyclavan Man, who was discovered in Ireland back in 2003. He made headlines for the remarkable "gel" found in his 2300-year-old hair, made from a combination of plant oil and pine resin imported from Mediterranean Europe. He was probably killed by an axe that had split his skull.
There's also Old Croghan Man, found nearby a few months later. He stood an incredible six feet six inches tall, which is still plenty tall today and would have made him an absolute giant over two thousand years ago. Archaeologists also noted that his hands appeared to be manicured, as though he had never worked a day in his life. That means he was either a prehistoric blogger (they had those, right?) or a man of exceptionally high status. It didn't end well for him either, though, as he was decapitated in his twenties. He also had his legs cut off and his nipples mutilated.
Now, that is how you make some headlines! (Clonyclavan Man also inspired one of the greatest poems in human history.) These bodies managed to touch on ancient class distinctions, continental trade, religions practices (it's thought Old Croghan Man was sacrificed to a fertility god, not unlike Nicolas Cage in The Wicker Man), and, best of all, MURDER! Their stories were seemingly made for future blog headlines. "Ancient Man Murdered, Perhaps For His Hair Gel!" "Two Thousand Year Old Giant Sacrificed, Lost His Nipples!" You don't necessarily need to take things to such extremes, but keep in mind how you can go about distinguishing yourself from the rest of the mummified herd. Journalists of the future will thank you.
Walk where you'll leave a mark.
3.5 million years ago, a trio of hominids in what is now Tanzania walked through some soft, powdery ash left behind by the eruption of a volcano about twelve miles away. When the ash hardened, their footprints were preserved, and millions of years later scientists are using their prints as crucial evidence in studying the development of bipedalism. But it's not like these hominids left no evidence of who they were as people. Scientist have reconstructed their gait and decided they walked with a leisurely stroll. Whoever they were, these were some relaxed hominids, and it's not a bad fate to be known forever for your easygoing, laid-back attitude.
The real benefit of this method is you don't actually have to die to leave your mark. Of course, you probably will die at some point, but as these other examples demonstrate, it's kind of a pain (often literally) to arrange your death in such a way that future archaeologists will discover you. All you need to do is find somewhere with a temporarily soft surface, walk through it, and hope it remains undisturbed until it hardens. It's a bit like writing your name in cement, except this could last for millions of years.
That Neil Armstrong feller and the rest of the Apollo bunch had the right idea. The footprints they left behind on the Moon could last for as long as there's a Moon at all, considering there are no atmospheric forces to scatter them away. Indeed, it's conceivable that, billions of years from now, if the Earth is somehow reduced to uninhabitable rubble, the Apollo footprints on the Moon might be the only remnants of human civilization to be found by alien archaeologists. They might think we all lived on the Moon! (OK, they'd have to be unspeakably terrible scientists to think that, but who doesn't love a good cosmic joke?)
Become a fossil.
Do you want real staying power? Fossils, the mineralized remains of organic matter, can be anywhere from ten thousand to three billion years old, and that upper limit is only going to get bigger as the Earth gets older. As an added bonus, people love fossils - how many kids first get interested in science by learning about dinosaur bones? (Countless, that's how many!) And it's not as though humans can't get in on the fossil fun. The most famous skeleton in existence is arguably that of Lucy, the 40% complete remains of a 3.2 million year old hominid discovered in Ethiopia in 1974. If you're looking for the best possible chance of preserving your remains forever, fossilization is unquestionably the way to go. But it won't be easy.
First, you've got to die the right way. Most animals are immediately robbed of any chance of becoming fossils by foolishly getting their carcasses devoured by predators. That's less of a concern for humans, but you'll still want to select a death site where scavengers and bugs can't get at you. Watery environments are often ideal for this, so you might want to consider a lake shore, a sink hole, or even a cave. The real key is you want to select an area where sediments will build up over time and form into rocks, which is pretty essential to the fossilization process. You might just want to ask your local geologist to point you in the direction of some shale rocks. After that, it's really just a matter of your bones exchanging minerals with the surrounding rocks and then...FOSSIL!
One last bit of advice if you're thinking of going down the fossil route - take care of your teeth. Because of their high calcium content, teeth are among the hardest structures in the body, and they are by far the most commonly discovered fossil. Even if nothing else manages to fossilize, your teeth still have a very decent shot to last until some far future paleontologists dig them up. And do you really want their first observation to be that you really, really could have stood to brush more often?