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Funeral History

Keeping Traditions Alive Throughout the Ages of Mankind

Funeral history is a topic of great interest to many people, from sociologists to anthropologists to, well, people of all walks of life who are interested in carrying on traditions that have become meaningful parts of their family and culture. Here is a summary of what experts understand about funeral history.

No one really knows what the earliest funeral rites look like, but it is known that funeral history dates back at least 300,000 years, to early Neanderthal man, who lived from Iraq to Central Europe. These earliest men would place flowers on the chests of the deceased before burying them in caves. This also gives strong evidence that they believed in an afterlife as well, as noted from discoveries archeologists have made around gravesites.

Funerals are one of the longest standing traditions of our collective historyComparably more recently in funeral history, how funerals took place for the ancient Greeks largely depended on how people were viewed by society before your passing. The height of honor was too pushed out on a raft and set on fire with a flaming arrow. Greek funeral history for those deemed traitors was less glamorous. They did not receive a burial, but were instead left out in the street for the birds to eat. Not everyone who suffered this fate would be considered bad or evil by today’s terms. The famous philosopher Socrates is one of many “traitorous” thinkers treated to such a funeral.

Egyptian funeral history, meanwhile, is highlighted by the perfection of mummification. Egyptians learned early on that in their dry conditions, a body disintegrated quickly once it was exposed to the elements, so they wrapped their deceased in tight linen. The height of honor was given to the Pharaohs, who were buried, along with their wives and slaves in pyramids, enshrined in a sarcophagus forever. A pyramid was thought of as a sort of “space ship” to transport the Pharaohs to the netherworld. For more common people, being mummified, followed by being transported down the Nile River into the sea was the usual funerary custom. Designed as a method of transportation to the afterlife, often these boats were packed with burial goods as well, in case they got hungry along the way.

Roman funeral history was one of pomp and circumstance. Typically at night, a noble Roman’s body would often be paraded in front of the masses. How long often depended on how important they were. If you were a nobleman, the parading typically lasted a week. If you were a commoner however, it was often over after one day. Roman funeral history also saw the advent of the cremation process. This was later changed however, when Christianity began to control the empire, only to be replaced by burial rituals similar to those of today.

Medieval Renaissance, and Reformation funeral history was also dependant one’s rank in the community. Throughout the Middle Ages, eulogies were not typical, only prayers for the departed. Early on, Medieval funerals were quick and to the point. Later however, they became long and drawn-out affairs, beginning in the evening of one night, and not ending until well into the next day. The funeral processions of earlier cultures were still common, and they would often begin with a “bell man” who would go through the streets announcing who had died as he rang his bell.

Almost every culture that has ever existed has had a funeral traditionEarly America funeral history largely centered around deaths from diseases, such as yellow fever, dysentery, consumption (tuberculosis) and malaria. Such a funerary mindset did early Americans have because of these deaths that they began to save gold coins at a young age in order to pay for their own funerals. Several commentaries have said this could perhaps be considered the first model for today’s modern life insurance policies. What is more, whenever they went practically anywhere, they would take their “laying out clothes” along with clothes that they intended to wear to wherever they were headed. Many of these ailments would become treatable by the late 19th century, as medical science advanced.

From the mid 19th through the early 20th in America and around the rest of the developed world, funeral history saw the beginning of the funeral cloth on top of the coffin. Also around this time, the funeral home became a profitable business. Those in charge of funeral homes wavered on whether they wanted to be referred to as “funeral directors,” “undertakers,” or “morticians.” The process of embalming, which is said to preserve the appearance of the deceased for longer once he or she is buried, also became increasingly common. This was the “hygienist” era, so churches all through America and Canada wholeheartedly supported embalming, since they believed that it would make the remains cleaner.

Throughout the 20th century, into the 21st as the developed world has come to include a more diverse array of cultures, funeral history has evolved accordingly. Elaborately ornate funerals at churches or funeral home are still possibly the most common, but simple “home” funerals are also becoming more and more typical as well. These new types of funerals leave just about everything up to the imagination of family members who creatively all they can to capture the spirit and essence of the deceased’s personality in their ceremony. These new types of funerals often involved cremation, and spreading the ashes around a place that was meaningful to the deceased, but that is not always the case. In fact, many modern funerals draw heavily on the traditions that have been in place since the times previously mention in this article.

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