The History of Funerals
Funeral rites are as old as the human race itself. Every culture and
civilization has attended to the proper care of their dead. Every human culture
ever studied has three common threads for death and the disposition of their dead:
1) Some type of ceremony, funeral rite, or ritual
2) A sacred place for the dead
3) Memorials for the dead
Researchers have found burial grounds of Neanderthal man dating to 60,000 BC
with animal antlers on the body and flower fragments next to the corpse indicating
some type of ritual and gifts to the deceased. One of the first examples of this was
unearthed in the Shanidar cave in Iraq; Neanderthal skeletons were discovered with
a layer of pollen.
With no great intellect or customs,the Neanderthal man instinctively buried their
dead with ritual and ceremony. This may suggest that Neanderthals believed in an
afterlife, but were at least capable of mourning, and were likely aware of their own
The most ancient and universal, of funeral monuments, were simple and natural,
consisting of a mound of earth, or a heap of stones, raised over the ashes or body
of the deceased.
Some primitive people exposed corpses in the open, in trees or on platforms.
Funeral Rites Through Time
60,000 BC- Neanderthals use flowers and antlers to decorate the dead
24,000 BC- One of the oldest known burial discoveries of the "Red Lady"by William
Buckley (see: 1822)
5000 BC- Oldest known Dolmen was built around this time
4000 BC- Embalming was originated by the Egyptians
- Tumuli, or burial mounds, are often seen solitary, many ancient sites had 100's
and even 1000's of them clustered in one area.
3500 BC- Period when most of the Dolmen were built
3400 BC- Mummification becomes normal in Egypt. Body preservation, a form of
3300 BC- Egyptian mummies’ levels of mummification differed according to rank and
cost. More expensive techniques resulted in a better looking corpse.
2200 BC- Stonehenge completed
1523-1028 BC- The beginning of the practice of Ancestor Worship in China during the
1323- King Tutankahem is entombed in his now infamous sargophus.
1000 BC- Urn Funerary or cinerary urns have been used since ancient times as vessels
to contain cremains. First made of clay, they can now be found in many different materials.
800 BC- The Ancient Greeks prefered form of disposition becomes cremation on funeral
410 BC- The use of Catacombs for burial ended
353 BC- The first true Mausoleum was built, for the Carian ruler Mausolus. Begun
before his death in 353 B.C., construction of the Mausoleum was continued by his wife It
ranked as one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World.
230 BC- Hokenoyama tomb oldest know burial chamber in Japan.
210 BC- Emperor Qin Shi Huang is buried with his terrocota warriors.
7- Native Americans are known to buried their dead with grave goods such as tools and
100- Columbariums The Romans in the first and second centuries, used “columbarium”
(which means “dovecote”) as a name for a structure containing multiple funerary urns
because the stacked urns resembled stacked cages.
300- Japanese developed their unique keyhole shaped burial mounds, which were used
most frequently for important leaders
400- Suttees though banned on multiple occasions (as recently as 1987), suttee (meaning
“good woman” or “chaste wife” in Sanskrit) is the custom of Hindu widow burning herself,
or being burned, of her husband’s funeral pyre
600- The crypt at Old St. Peter's Basilica, Rome, developed about the year 600
900- Viking Tumulus Elaborate Viking funerals often involved ritual sacrifice of peasants,
given large amounts of strong drink before their “roles.” The graves, ship shaped tumuli,
were outlined with stone markers.
1500- Aztecs were known to be celebrating the Day of the Dead
- Inhabitant of Hawaii were known to bury the dead,
then light a fire over it that must be maintained for ten days.
1578- Rediscovery of the Roman Catacombs
1632- Building of the Taj Mahal
1800- Draping of a coffin with a National Flag during the Napoleonic Wars (1796-1815)
- Body Snatching becomes a concern, especially in the US & UK.
1822- William Buckley discovers the "Red Lady" in South Wales, a skeleton, dyed with
red ochre, surrounded by grave goods and shells. It was a man, shown that he lived 26,000
years ago, the oldest ceremonial burial discovered in Western Europe.
1829- Suttee was outlawed in British India
1830- Chinese are burying people in the sides of mountains.
1860's- U.S. Embalming began during the Civil War
1864- Arlington became a military cemetery
1884- Cremation began legal in England
1882- First meeting on the National Funeral Directors Association
1887- Cincinnati College of Mortuary Science Established
1890- There are almost 10,000 funeral directors in the U.S.
1909- Crane & Breed build the first motorized hearse
1919- "Bring back the Dead" league started in 1919.
1920- There are nearly 25,000 funeral homes in the U.S.
1930- Open air funeral pyres became illegal with the "Cremation Act of 1930" in the U.K.
1963- Nov 22 JFK buried at Arlington National Cemetery
- Jessica Mitford Releases- "American Way of Death"
- The Catholic church began to accept cremation
1971- U.S. Memorial Day became a Federal holiday
1984- FTC's "Trade Regulations on the Funeral Industry Practices" went into full effect.
1993- The first cemetery featuring green burial is opened in the U.K.
1997- Cremated remains began to be launched into space for disperal amongst the stars.
2000- Ecopods made of biodegradable paper and other fibers, the sleek ecopods can be
customized just like caskets, but are designed to be used in “green” cemeteries.
2006- Launch of the 1st version of The Funeral Source online
- Custom caskets begin to enter the market.
2014- Customized Cremation urns began to be made with 3-D printers
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