Buddhists traditionally bury or cremate their dead. High in the mountains of Tibet they are above the tree line so timber as well as fuel is scarce, making cremation not feasible. Burying is nearly impossible considering there are only a few centimeters of topsoil before you get to rock or solid permafrost. So the Buddhists in Tibet opt for a different type of burial, Sky Burial. Sky burial is considered an act of generosity by the deceased because they and their family are providing food for living beings. Generosity is an important concept in Buddhism.
The custom was first recorded in the 12th century in the Tibetan Book of the Dead. There was evidence found that this practice took place as far back as 11,500 years ago at the temple of Gobekli Tepe.
The bodies are prayed over for a day prior to the Sky Burial taking place. Incense is burned, bells are rung, and the entire family gathers to chant mantras with monks. In most eyewitness accounts, vultures are given the whole body. When only the bones remained, they are broken up with mallets, ground with tsampa (barley flour with tea and yak butter or milk), and given to crows and hawks that have waited until the vultures had departed.
The government of China began controlling Tibet in the 1950’s. They outlawed this practice for being barbaric in the 1960’s but began allowing it again in the 1980’s.