burial culture

Consultation around the topic of "burial, burial culture and tradition"

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consultation: burial - death

Burial traditions

Hominids (Pre-neanderthals)
The hominids did not seem to have a special relationship to the dead yet. There were no burial rituals, the body was simply left somewhere or given to the diminishment.

The Neanderthals
Already the Neanderthals had more interest in their dead, descoveries show prove of some early burial rituals. Caves and fosses were used as their last resting-place for bodies. They gave mostly tools, weapons and food to their deceased to take with them. Usually the dead were entombed in a tied together embrio position. Bear bones were often found in graves of Neanderthals. It is likely that by doing this they tried to transmit the resurrecting powers of the bear after the hibernation onto the deceased.

The Cro-Magnon Human (Homo Sapiens)
The Cro-Magnon human was in the possesion of better tools then the Neanderthal, which suggests a higher developed culture. Evidence shows that the first burial practises date back to this time. A varety of discoveries in graves and cave paintings suggest that the Cro-Magnon Humen believed in a group membership and that they knew different layers of social statueses. Most like the Cro-Magnon Humen had a shaman and a priest who were responsible for their rituals.

The Egyptians
The Egyptians were obsessed with death and developed increasingly complex burial rituals with time. The preparations to death and the life after became an obssession. To achieve a happy life after death the rituals had to be held according to strict rules. These special rits and proceedures were described in the death book (earliest holy texts of the world). The death book was a collection of magic texts, magic words and evocation with the help of which the wellbeing of the deceased in the afterlife was guaranteed. Since about 3000 BC the Egyptians practised the mummification, which was only abandoned when they converted to the Islam 3500 years later. The idea of the last court was of central importance to the Egyptians (the heart of the mummy was waighted opposite the feather of wisdome and truth). The Egyptians believed that the dead would need the same objects of their lifes in their afterlife, therefore they gave everything that was of importance to them to their grave. This explains why Egyptian gravesites (the pyramids) were so big and why so many tools could be found in them. The pyramids are the biggest gravesite in the world and became the last resting-place for many people.

The Greeks
The Greeks borrowed a part of their philosophy about death from the Egyptians. Them as well believed that the Gods would weight the soul of humen after their death. They gave food, wine, cloths and sustenance to their dead to take with them. They were appalled by the torture of death and fascinated with immortality. If not all rituals were met correctly or there weren't enough sacrificial offerings, torture was the consequence in the "mirthless kingdom" - Hades. Until ca. 1000 BC the Greeks buried their dead, after the cremation of the body became the prefered burial methode. The cremation by fire was established as the most practical methode on the battle field. The ashes of the dead soldiers were filled into urns and handed over to the relatives. This was an extreme relief, especially when the death happened far away. With the use of the urn it became possible to hold state funerals only weeks or even months after the death of a fallen hero. Whilst most ordinary people were still buried, cremation soon became the prefered methode of the elite.

The Romans
As with the Greeks, most ordinary people were buried, while the Roman elite prefered cremation. Wealthy families bought artistic urns and rented alcoves in special crypts, the columbaria. Additionally they purchased special tear jugs to keep the tears of professional mourners. Soon a whole industry was developed out of the funeral expenditure, which lead to the first professional funeral director. Around 100 AD the cremation decreased again out of two main reasons. Firstly Christianity gained power and the early church disapproved of cremation. Secondly the wood resources got thight do to all the cremations and the Romans needed it to build forts and ships.

Early Middleages
People in the middle ages were more then familiar with the middle ages. Death was accepted and part of life. Overexaggerated feelings like fear or grief were seen as inapporpriate. This calm attitute is a result of the hard and demanding lives, people used to have, where death seemed more of a salvation, then a punishment. Life expectations were rather low and people had death infront of their eyes constantly. The community was more important than the indivitual, therefore the grief for the loss of a single person contained itself to a minimum. Death was not seen as fate of the single one, but looked at as a communal experiance.Funerals were held pretty plain and up until 600 AD outside the city (partly because it was thought possible, that the dead would return and hunt the living ones). Ca. 700 AD the claustral life style developed and a cult for martyrs came up. Huge pilgrim swars visited the monestries and the graveyards of the martyrs and wished to be bured as close to them as possible. Therefore chapels and churches were gratually built next to those graveyards. Consequentally the culture changed towards burying the dead in the churchyards rather then the free country side. Another place for bodies to find peace were the bone houses (ossuaries). In these public places the remains of the poor and unknown were kept.The bone houses also served as a place for bsiness, dances and to play. This behaviour reflects the attitude towards death, that it was a collective fate, which hadn't to be afraid of.

Late middle ages and renaissace
Around the 12th century the medieval attitude towards death changed. Through the facilitated access to greek and roman philosophies and the discoveries of new continents and cultures the self-confidence of many people changed and the longer the less people were willing to believe in the promisses of the church of a communal rebirth. In this time the concept of a divine balance came up, which would be meassured individually after every single death. From now on the thought of death was not linked to a feeling of peace, but rather to many feelings of fear. Suddenly death seemed to be everywhere and even though many declarations of the church didn't withstand the time, the fear grew especially of the salvation and the divine judgement in the heaven's court. Death became a topic, which took over the whole life and therefore more relevance was given to the process of dying. The revolutionary idea of the free will came with a lot of moral responsibilities, and the settlement of earthly bills, the attest to personal things and the liability of ownership were seen as way and means to ensure salvation. In the years of the plage, death was surrounded by taboos and fears and from then on dead bodies were covered and hidden from the living eye. Slowly the costume developed to illustrate the deceased ones in some form; gravestones, engravings, death masks and sculptures told about their lives and represented them before and after their deaths.

The industral age
About 1700 perspective of the own death relocated to the death of others. Interpersonal replationships in their smallest and most intimate form (lovers, parent-child, husband-wife, friends etc.) became more and more releveant and a commonly respected part of life. Death, which meant the end to those passionate relationships was felt in an even more unbearable way, but at the same time it was seen as romantic and erotic. Increasingly more people hoped, that there was a chace for their family to be together in heaven. Through concentrating on the fate of others, one tried to deal with the shocking possibility of personal damnation. These kind of thoughts lead to ideas like a "beautiful death", as well as to exaggerated grieving rituals. Death was only seen as foreplay to the family reunion in heaven. The romatics of the 18th and early 19th century compared death with the unfolding of a butterfly from its cocoon. Artistic mourning ceremonies and memorial stones helped to alleviate the pain of loss, and the dead were honoured with richly decorated monuments, gravestones and statues. Graveyards were transformed to big, inviting parks, because more and more people spent time there. In that time most people still passed away in their homes and the wakes with their coffins in their living rooms were big, social events. The Victorians introduced the specially black framed mourning paper and the fashion industry designed according black mourning garments. Also popular were earrings, pins and bracelettes that were made from the hair of the deseaced. Slowly our modern attitude towards death comes through. Thanks to medical advances, people increasingly lived longer and death came later. On the other hand, that ment that illnesses lasted longer and were more brutal. Through the increasing fear of sickness, death as well came into a repellant and detestable dimention. The term private sphere came up, which was eligible for the family and selected people, it was much less accepted to grief and to have an open conversation about death. The modern age
A hundred and a tousand years ago most people died at home. Today most people die in the hospital, which makes death almost invisible for us. Progress in the medicamentous treatment help to endure and lower the horrible pains of illnesses and injuries. From a scientific point of view, death is only a biological passage, which has to be arranged as painless as possible. The fact, that death is being covered up by modern technology, does not change the big fear of death, which still exists. Now that death restrained by science seems free of pain to us, most people fear the unpersonal, clinic aspect, to die alone in a hospital. Given today's mobility and globalization of humanity, the believe in community and family can seem fleeting and fugacious. As well Religion consoles people less and less and through the constant decrease of rituals, many cannot measure the meaning of life and death no more. Funerals now-a-days are often short and descreet affairs, handled more by professionals then the family themselves and because people are not used to deal with death anymore, therefore sentences like: "I don't know what to say. I don't know what to do." come up often. In modern society death seems to be something obnoxious and human mortality is often surrounded from a wall of silence.

Since the antiquity the cremated remains were often filled into urns and kept in columbaria. The Assyrians used urns for the keepsake of the ashes and the Etruscans used over dimentional vases, which were placed on a stand. The Greek called their urns craters and some of these beautifully manufactured and with paintings ornamented urns belong to the biggest art works of this time. They convey the attitude the Greeks had to life, as well as to death. The modern Buddhists keep their urns on their house altars, which they create at home. As well in our civilization more and more people start to keep the urns of their beloved ones at home, outdoors, or they disseminate the ashes into the winds at a place chosen by the deceased and keep the urn as a keepsake and momento at their home.

A columbarium is a building, which can either be artistically decorated or kept very simple, which is suitable for the keepsake of the remains. Columbaria are usually in use in Italian, Greek or Roman catacombs. In Mexico and Nigaragua columbaria were found inside mountains, where the remains were kept inside a chamber (mogotes). Modern columbaria can contain thousands of urns, which are sunk into accordingly labeled alcoves. A french columbarium, built in 1887 shows 25 000 alcoves, of which about 16 000 are used. Another columbarium built in 1898 in San Francisco, has been restored and has now become a tourist attraction. Even weddings are held there now.

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