The History of Cremation

 

The first known method of cremation is as early as 8000B.C. and today, cremation is practiced in at least 31 countries around the world. In Australia approximately 128,000 people die each year and around 54% are cremated, with this disposition method increasing by half a per cent each year. The Japan and the UK are the largest adopters of cremation, Japan with 99% and UK with 71%, according to Pharos 2002 International Cremation Statistics. Modern cremation is a disposition style where the body is reduced to its basic chemical compounds, through an incineration process. Learn more in our blog about the entire cremation process.

In recent years, cremation has risen in popularity due to it being seen as a more affordable option, compared to a traditional burial. There are many other reasons for selecting cremation as the burial option for a loved one such as a personal preference, holding a scattering ceremony may provide a family with more time to help plan and prepare with distant family and friends, or religious and environmental reasons. To help understand whether cremation is the right option for you, it may help to learn about its origin and history.

When did cremation begin?

Scholars have agreed that cremation began in the Stone Age, around 3000 B.C. Taking a western perspective, during the Stone Age cremation began to spread across northern Europe, as evidenced by decorative pottery urns in western Russia among the Slavic peoples.

During the Bronze Age, 2500 to 1000 B.C. cemeteries for cremation developed in Spain, British Isles, Hungary and Northern Italy. By the Mycenean Age around 1000 B.C cremation was an integral part of the Grecian burial custom and was encouraged to be the preferred mode of disposition in a battle ravaged country.

Reaching the Roman Empire between 27 B.C and 395 A.D, cremation was widely practiced and elaborate urns were used to store remains in buildings similar to a columbarium we use today. Then, by 400 A.D, due to Christianisation of the Roman Empire, earth burial had completely replaced cremation. The only exceptions were in instances of plague or war that along the next 1,500 years to remain with burial as the widely accepted mode of disposition throughout Europe.

Cremation as we see it today began just over a century ago. Professor Brunetti of Italy had perfected a model and displayed his dependable cremation chamber at the 1873 Vienna Expo. This rebirthed the cremation movement on both sides of the Atlantic.

The first crematories in Europe were built in 1878 in Woking, England and Gotha, Germany. In the USA, the first crematory was built in 1876 by Dr. Julius LeMoyne in Washington, Pennsylvania. The first crematorium in Australia was built in 1925 at Rookwood, New South Wales.

How cremation has changed over the years

Cremation as we know it today uses intense heat to transform the body into ash. Whereas in the earliest known method of cremation fire was used with a log pyre. In alternate practices, pitch and gums were also added to the wood. The practice of cremation was stamped out almost completely during the spread of Christianity until practical cremation chambers were constructed in the late 1800s. Today we are seeing advances in cremation technology and the popularity of this burial method growing.


What cultures practice cremation?

Catholicism

For Catholics, burial is the preferred option over cremation. Historically, the Catholic Church did not support cremation, however, it has undergone a shift and now considers cremation acceptable. The Church would prefer when being cremated that remains are buried or kept at a cemetery instead of scattered or kept at home. Furthermore, the Church prefers that the body is present for the funeral service or mass, so cremation should take place after the service.

Anglicanism, Methodism & Baptist Church

While different churches and sects do have alternate views however most Anglicans, Methodist Churches and Baptist Churches believe that cremation is acceptable.

Jehovah’s Witness

Unlike the Christian sects, the Jehovah’s Witnesses believe in a spiritual resurrection, instead of a physical resurrection. Cremation therefore is not an issue and are advised to take local laws and customs into account.

Aboriginal spirituality

Both burial and cremation are considered acceptable by members of Australia’s diverse and varied Aboriginal communities, and often the ceremony will combine elements of Aboriginal culture.

Hinduism

Hinduism sees cremation as more important than burial. Cremation is associated with the faith and encouraged as the traditional passing method as they believe that cremation helps the soul to leave the body and progress to reincarnation. The Hindus who are not cremated traditionally are babies, children and saints.

Buddhism

Buddhism do not require followers to choose a particular burial method, however many Buddhists prefer cremation to follow in the footsteps of Siddhartha Gautama, the Buddha, who was cremated.


The following religions do not encourage cremation:

Islam

Islam is strictly opposed to cremation and the practice is totally forbidden. This is due to the practice being viewed as an unclean, sacrilegious and sinful practice. The view is that the body should be treated with the same respect as it was in life and that some part of the body may be necessary for resurrection and mourning.

Eastern Orthodox Church – Greek Orthodox & Russian Orthodox

This faith is opposed to cremation for its followers and preference natural decomposition. This was due to the perceived pagan associations of cremation.

Judaism

For thousands of years, Judaism holds that burial in the ground is the acceptable form of burial for proper respect of those who have passed. Today, cremation is still discouraged yet Reform Judaism has become more accepting of the practice, however the cremains must still be buried in a coffin. Orthodox Judaism still remains opposed to cremation.

When deciding if cremation is the appropriate burial choice for yourself or a family member you may also like to consider where the ashes will be stored or scattered. There are many ideas around what to do with cremains and we have explored these in our blog called Scattering Ashes: Everything you need to know. For memorial urns we have created a comprehensive urn booklet to find a memorial style to suit you and your loved ones.

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