Digging their way to the top, 18 two-man teams of Hungarian gravediggers displayed their skills Friday for a place in a regional championship to be held in Slovakia later this year, the AP reports. Participants in the contest, held in the eastern Hungarian city of Debrecen, were being judged on their speed but also getting points for style—the look of the finished grave mounds. Organizer Iren Kari says they hoped the race would help increase respect and recognition for the gravediggers' profession and attract more people to the job, which is under threat, for example by the increasing popularity of cremations. "These men see death every day. Sometimes people joke about them while they work, but gravediggers are human, too," he says.
All contestants had shovels, rakes, axes and pickaxes to dig graves 2 feet, 7 inches wide; 6 feet 6 inches long; and 5 feet, 3 inches deep, but no two teams seemed to use the same technique. Some preferred to dig simultaneously, while others had one man digging while the other formed the dirt into neat piles around the gravesite. After every team finished digging—the fastest time was just over 34 minutes—there was a short rest and then the dirt was shoveled back into the graves, each topped with a burial mound. But will the event attract more people to the profession? "The hardest part of the job is to deal with the mourners," says Debrecen gravedigger Laszlo Toth. "But it's a good job, with good colleagues and a good environment." (Read more graves stories.)