Ancient Funeral Rites
Humans have found different ways to honor the dead throughout history. Almost every culture had rites for the dead. The first burial site from paleolithic human cultures is estimated to be roughly 50,000 years old. While practices have been modernized with the times, it is intriguing to see how changes to funeral practices have evolved throughout history.
The First Coffins
While caskets today are built to be wide, early coffins were built to tightly fit around the bodies. Around 10,000 years ago, the first known coffins were crafted for the dead to be placed in caves. Residue on the coffins suggests that they were decorated and painted ceremoniously. Various trinkets, garments, and food were buried along with the deceased. These coffins were stacked in piles on top of each other. Conceptually, these caves were the precursor to mausoleums, which we still see today.
Many ancient societies across the globe buried the dead in burial mounds. Burial mounds are raised hills of stone and dirt meant to inter the dead. These artificial hills would be created to house the remains of the dead. Smaller mounds may be used for individuals or families. Larger mounds were able to house remains over generations, or important individuals. Many burial mounds were adorned on the inside with art, and rooms may have contained grains, herbs, and other items. One of the oldest and most famous burial mounds is Newgrange, found in Ireland. It was most likely built around 3200 B.C.E. It predates both Stonehenge and the Great Pyramid of Giza.
Cremation is also a fairly ancient practice. Modern methods help ensure the body is converted to ash, but funeral pyres can be traced back as far as 20,000 years, in Australia. Ancient Greece and Rome often used cremation processes, especially for fallen warriors. Both societies also built columbariums, to house and display urns. This practice was also used to help limit the spread of diseases. The rise of Christianity in this region reduced the popularity of this practice.
Viking warriors are famous for their cremation practices. Fallen Viking warriors were placed on boats. These boats were filled with their possessions, food, and even slain slaves, and set alight on the water.
Ancient Egypt is well known for the pyramids, but also their mummies. Mummification was a way to preserve the body, and to reduce the smell of decay. Priests would use natron along with spices, oil, and wine for preservation. Taoist Chinese traditions had families brush the deceased in talc powder for preservation and cleanliness. Modern preservation techniques are used by morticians to ensure that the deceased looks and smells presentable for open-casket funerals.
For over 50 years, Matthew Funeral Home has been serving the Staten Island community. We can help with almost every aspect of your loved one’s memorial service. Our family is here to serve yours, every step of the way.