Though the ways we honor our loved ones who have passed away have changed throughout the years, each culture and generation has found unique ways to celebrate a remarkable life. Honoring lost loved ones has long been a vital part of the healing process after a loved one passes on.
The desire to honor those we have lost is universal. It provides healing and comfort during life’s most trying times. Honoring our loved ones also allows us to say goodbye and continue sharing their incredible lives. Today, we’ll learn about burial customs from their earliest accounts to present-day.
Why Do We Honor Our Loved Ones Who Have Passed Away?
Remains of monuments built to honor the dead can still be seen in various locations around the world. Studying ancient burial grounds called necropolises such as the Giza Necropolis help us understand how past civilizations have celebrated their lost loved ones.
Honoring the dead transcends time and culture because it helps us heal. There are many reasons celebrating those who have passed is a universal custom:
- We honor lost loved ones so that we can carry on their memory. When we lose those dearest to us, we’re able to honor their memory for the remainder of our lives. We do this through various burial customs and memorials. Taking time to share your loved one’s stories keeps their impact and legacy alive.
- We honor those who have passed so we can heal. Honoring lost loved ones provides a sense of closure to those experiencing grief. It offers a way to say goodbye and allows us to move forward while not ignoring this heartbreaking loss.
- Memorializing our loved ones brings family and friends together. Loneliness and isolation often accompany grief. Gathering with family members and close friends who knew your loved one well can provide comfort and support.
Moving forward after loss is no small feat, but walking through the healing journey with family and friends helps provide the support we need.
When Did We Begin Honoring Our Deceased Loved Ones?
We can trace burials and memorial ceremonies to the earliest civilizations. Ancient Mesopotamians were found to have buried lost loved ones dating back to 5000 BCE.
Inhabitants of Mesopotamia believed in an afterlife. They believed this Land of the Dead existed beneath the Earth, so burial customs were developed to provide a soul with easier access to the afterlife.
When someone passed away, they were buried under the house of their family members to ease their journey to the Land of the Dead. Mesopotamian burial customs displayed a respect for the dead that has carried on throughout history.
One of the oldest burial grounds can be traced back nearly 100,000 years. Israel’s Grave of Qafzeh is home to 15 graves buried inside a cave. Approximately 70 stone tools and artifacts were found buried in the graves, and this custom of burying the dead with treasured items or keepsakes is still practiced today.
What Was the Necropolis?
Later, the necropolis was created to celebrate the lives of important figures who passed away. A necropolis was an extravagant burial site characteristic of antiquity. One of the oldest necropolises was the Giza Necropolis, now one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World.
The Giza Necropolis contains the Great Pyramid of Giza and the Sphinx. This site also contains monuments and pyramids that mark the graves of past Pharaohs, celebrating their lives. This necropolis was built between 2500 BC and 2600 BC.
Like the Mesopotamians, the Ancient Egyptians believed in an afterlife. The Egyptians constructed these breathtaking burial sites to ensure that a loved one could easily enter this afterlife.
Pharaohs were believed to be gods in the afterlife. In preparation for the next life, Pharaohs were buried with everything they would need for the afterlife. This included jewels, fine clothing, food, and even wine.
Other necropolises sprung up all across the ancient world. From the Vatican to Pakistan, necropolises became the way of honoring the dead in the ancient world. These beautiful monuments were a universal sign of respect for the dead.
When Did We Begin Embalming?
We can date the advent of burial to Ancient Mesopotamia. Meanwhile, the creation of monuments and headstones dates back to historical necropolises.
Embalming can be traced back to ancient Egypt. We still use embalming to prepare our loved ones for burial today. The process delays any changes to the body that occur after death, providing us with the time we need to say goodbye.
Beginning in 3200 BC during the First Dynasty, loved ones were embalmed and mummified in preparation for burial. This was a way of showing respect to those who passed and preparing their bodies to enter the afterlife.
Fast forward to the Civil War, and embalming became a popular burial custom in the United States. As the demand grew for fallen soldiers to be returned to their families, embalming became a necessary part of honoring the dead.
When Did We Begin Observing Funeral Services?
The growing popularity of embalming after the Civil War caused a boom in the funeral industry. Embalming provided more flexibility when it came to funeral services because it preserved the body for longer periods of time. This created time for more in-depth funeral planning to better celebrate loved ones who had passed away.
From here, funeral homes grew in popularity. This provided a need for funeral directors, as well. Formal funeral services began to take shape as families brought their lost loved ones to funeral homes to be embalmed and prepared for burial.
Funeral directors would help organize and hold funeral gatherings that included a viewing and ceremony. The result of embalming gave time for families and close friends to gather from near and far to say goodbye and comfort one another.
Funerals became a well-known way of honoring passed loved ones. It gave families a sense of closure and a time to share stories and memories of their loved ones. Funeral services often marked the beginning of the mourning process for families. It became a way of moving forward while holding a loved one close to the heart.
When Did We Begin Cremating Our Loved Ones?
Cremation is another pathway through which we honor loved ones. Cremation allows great flexibility when it comes to burial.
While the earliest cremation was believed to be during the Stone Age in 3000 BC, it did not come to the United States until 1876, when Dr. Julius LeMoyne built the first cremation chamber in Washington, Pennsylvania.
From here, cremation grew in popularity because of its cost and flexibility. Cremation gave families more options when it came to memorializing lost loved ones. Cremated ashes could be turned to keepsakes or kept in an urn. Ashes could also be buried or divided among family members. Cremation became the first step toward what we now know as green burial.
Cremation made way for memorial diamonds to become a reality. The first lab-produced diamond was created in 1953, birthing the realization that diamonds could be grown from carbon in a lab.
In 2003, the first diamond made from human ashes was created. This paved the way for this beautiful and one-of-a-kind way to honor a lost loved one.
Honoring the unique life of your loved one is our mission at Eterneva. We create memorial diamonds as a way to make beauty from ashes. We believe your loved one’s cherished memory should be honored in a one-of-a-kind way that you can carry with you throughout your life.
What Is Green Burial?
Today, as awareness grows about the harmful effects traditional burial has on the environment, new burial customs are being created. While cremation was the first alternative to traditional burial, there have since been eco-friendly advancements that are gaining popularity.
Aquamation (or water cremation) is a recent alternative to flame cremation. Aquamation is a process in which the body is immersed in a solution of 95% water and 5% of a strong alkali. Over the course of several hours, the natural decomposition process is accelerated, leaving behind a bone-fragment powder that resembles the ashes from flame cremation.
This process uses 90% less energy than flame cremation and does not emit any harmful gasses into the air.
This process was invented in 1888 as a way to bury remarkable pets. It became a process used for human burial in the early 2000s, and it stands today as one of the most eco-friendly burial options.
Tree Pod Burial
The year 2016 brought with it another eco-friendly burial method: the tree pod. These pods are made from biodegradable materials that decompose into the environment. This releases cremated the remains of your loved one in order to nurture the soil so that a tree may grow. This is environmentally friendly as well as offers a way to make life from death.
From Ancient Mesopotamia to modern-day America, honoring the dead has remained a strong and vital custom in society. It is a way that we universally cope with grief and say goodbye to those we love.
While the modes by which we honor lost loved ones have evolved throughout history, the significance has never faded. Honoring those we have lost keeps their memory alive while allowing us to move forward.
Egyptian Mummies | Smithsonian Institution