Archive for June, 2012

A History of Cremations

Author: Cattie Khoury


Creative: APT Media, Inc.

Published: June 29, 2012

Life and death. The two are the basis on our existence. We are born into life and ended with death and these occurrences are celebrated in each culture. There are certain rituals performed when a life has been born into the world, depending on that culture’s preferences. The same applies to death. All over the world, throughout time there are dozens of different practices used to pass a life on into the next chapter. Cremation is one of them and is one of the oldest and most controversial.

Cremation is a process of using very high temperature burning, vaporization or oxidation to break down bones into basic compounds, primarily mineral fragments or ash. This practice dates back as far as 20,000 years ago in Mungo, Australia. Remains of a body that was partly cremated were found on Mungo Lake. They named this finding the “Mungo Lady”. Although the body was only partly cremated, it shows that there was a history of cremation even 20,000 years ago. That’s one old lady!

As time progressed and the Mungo Lady aged, so did the practice of Cremation in certain areas. During the Neolithic period in the Middle East and Europe, cremations were present in archeological records dating back to 2,000 B.C.. Early persians and Phoenicians practiced cremation as well. However, throughout this practice’s history there has been skeptics of the practice. Different Persian leaders outlawed the practice of cremation during the Zoroastrian period. Persians weren’t the only ones with mixed feelings about cremation. From 3000 B.C to 12,000 B.C., Greeks disapproved of the practice until around 12,000 B.C. when they began to use cremation as a way to honor those who served their country in the military. There are records of cremation throughout various cultures in these ancient days. From the Bronze Age’s Urnfield culture to the Iron Age’s Villanovan culture, cremation was spreading far. The practice of cremation began to rise, but that rise hit the ceiling. In the middle ages, Europe made cremation illegal and punishable by death in some cases. It became more of a punishment in that area instead of a way to honor one’s life. It was being used to punish those who committed crimes and to rid of those suffering from contagious diseases. Soon, cremation became less of a government controversy and began to become more of an ethical and religious dilemma.

Some religions did not believe in the practice. Jehovah’s Witnesses absolutely disagreed with cremation, saying that it was “not condemned by Jehovah”. The Roman Catholic Church strongly discouraged the practice of cremation. They found the body to be a strong part of holy, human life and that once life passed from it, it should be preserved in a way that would honor the body without harming it any further. Judaism also discouraged the practice of cremation because in their religion it was required to bury the dead. Christians had consistently, throughout the ages been against the cremation, believing that it would hinder the ability for Christ to resurrect the person. These beliefs about cremation throughout these religions were kept for hundreds of years.

As the years rolled by and times changed, so did the belief from certain religions on cremation. Jewish cemeteries in Europe towns were running out of room to house the deceased. They turned to cremation. Nowadays, cremation is no longer explicitly banned from the religion. Although it is now practiced by Jewish people, the religion still discourages the practice and prefers traditional burials instead because of what their people had endured during the Holocaust. During the 1870’s, even some Christians began to change their minds about cremation. The first Christians to begin the practice of cremations were the Protestants, who slowly started to permit the practice in their church. They stated that, “God could resurrect a bowl of ashes as well as he could resurrect a bowl of dust.” Roman Catholics who strictly forbade the practice of cremation have just recently changed their restrictions. The Vatican removed the ban on practicing cremation in the religion. They changed some of their funeral rituals so that cremation could be an option. Jehovah’s witnesses have also turned a new page. They now do not outlaw cremation completely how they did in the past. Eventually the body turns to dust, so speeding up that process through cremation is no longer looked at so negatively by them. These new beliefs on cremation sparked a very bright flame throughout the world. Soon enough, crematories began spurting out of the ground at just the right time. The world at this time was a sponge for new ideas and absorbed them receptively. Once crematories made their first appearance, they spread like wildfire.

Cremation as we know it today began its shaping in the 1800’s. While few cremations were acknowledged, legitimate crematories started coming about in the 1870’s. In England in 1874, Queen Victoria’s surgeon, Sir Henry Thomas and his colleagues created The Cremation Society of England. Because of the research done in this society, crematories were soon to be put in place. In 1878, the first crematories in Europe were opened up in Woking, England and Gotha, Germany. This fever for crematories didn’t only exist in Europe. It found its way into North America. In 1876, Dr. Julius Leymone built the first crematory in North America in Washington, Pennsylvania. Crematories contagiously sprang up throughout the rest of America and by the 1900’s, there were over 20 crematories in operation. These forefather crematories were contagious in other parts of the country as well. Nowadays, there are thousands of crematories throughout America just as other countries do. Cremation made its presence noticed in America and is now becoming part of our country and culture. Some sectors in our U.S. Military use cremation services to honor their members. Because of its affordability, people on tight budgets turn to cremation services instead of funeral services. Cremation services cost a fraction of what traditional funeral services charge. People looking for alternative placement of their loved ones choose cremation because of the doors it opens. They can have their loved one held in urns which are entirely portable, in pendants and even jewelry. Cremation is now viewed in most cultures as a ritual used to pass the deceased onto their next chapters. All over the physical world, crematories and cremation services are embraced. Our virtual world, on the internet, houses cremation services. We welcome life with a celebration and now, despite the rocky uprise of cremation services, we can end it with a celebration through cremation.

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