On page 103 of Burroughs' Encyclopaedia of Astounding Facts and Useful Information, 1889 is a section called "How to Distinguish Death."
As many instances occur of parties being buried alive, they being to all appearance dead, the great importance of knowing how to distinguish real from imaginary death need not be explained.
In case there is great doubt, the body should not be allowed to be inclosed in the coffin, and under no circumstances should burial be allowed until there are unmistakable signs of decomposition.Among the foolproof tests for "imaginary death" are these:
4. A coal of fire, a piece of hot iron, or the flame of a candle, applied to the skin, if life remains, will blister--if dead it will merely sear. 5. A bright steel needle introduced and allowed to remain for half an hour in living flesh will be still bright--if dead, it will be tarnished by oxydation. [Link, via Boing Boing]Red-hot coals applied to the soles of the feet remain an excellent way to distinguish the truly dead from the soundly sleeping.