While the popularity of cremation in some modern countries is a recent trend, cremation itself has been around for centuries. Some ancient cultures embraced cremation for handling the remains of lost friends and family, and they did so for all types of reasons. Today, people are increasingly turning to cremation instead of traditional burial for some of the same — and many different — reasons.
Ancient Cremation Practices
Historians believe cremation practices occurred as early as around 3,000 BC based on archaeological evidence that includes decorative urns made of pottery. The earliest use of ancient cremation was probably in the Near East and eastern parts of Europe. By 1000 BC, scholars believe the practice migrated west from what is present-day Russia and the Slavic nations to the western parts of Europe and the British Isles. Historians know cremation was fully integrated into Grecian culture by that time, and by 800 BC, it was the dominant way to handle remains in Greece.
The Greeks often chose cremation because it provided for fast funeral and burial processes, something required due to constant war in and around Greece during those centuries. Even at such an early point in history, Greek society was advanced enough to understand some of the sanitation issues associated with dead bodies, so cremation was also popular for it’s perceived benefits to overall health. These same reasons for choosing cremation are relevant in modern culture.
The Birth of Modern Cremation
From ancient Greece through the Roman culture that dominated by the first century AD, cremation remained a popular option for handling remains. Roman citizens across the empire often displayed the cremains of loved ones in urns featuring elaborate motifs and designs. However, it wasn’t until the late 19th century that modern cremation was invented.
The original modern cremation process, which is the foundation for the process used across the globe today, was invented by Italian Professor Brunetti, who displayed it for the first time at the 1873 Vienna Exposition. Three years later, the first crematory was opened in the United States. Within 25 years, there were 20 crematories operating in the country. Despite opposition from the Catholic Church, which felt some of the ceremony and activity around cremation was anti-Catholic in nature, the industry was supported by both medical professionals and Protestant church leaders. Medical professionals saw cremation as a way to improve unsanitary conditions associated with some of the cemeteries of that time. Protestant church leaders looked to cremation as a way to reform what some considered lavish or improper burial practices.
Increasing Popularity of Cremation in the United States
Between 1900 and today, cremation has continued to grow in popularity throughout the world. Some countries, such as Japan, have extremely high cremation rates. In the United States, close to 50 percent of individuals chose cremation in 2015, compared with fewer than 4 percent in 1958.
Reasons Individuals Choose Cremation
Americans of all types of backgrounds, financial status and age range choose cremation, and they do so for a variety of reasons. Many people report choosing cremation to save money. The price of cremation, including a vessel to contain the cremains, is usually much less than the cost of a traditional burial and burial plot. Even when someone wants to be interred in a traditional burial location, cremation can save on costs associated with the transportation of remains. A casket and body require very special (as well as expensive) arrangements to move, particularly over long distances. Human cremains can be shipped via the U.S. Postal Service, though not via services such as UPS or FedEx.
Other reasons individuals choose cremation include the convenience associated with the process and the flexibility afforded to grieving loved ones. Loved ones have much more control over how they engage with and part with remains when cremation is chosen rather than a traditional burial. Cremation also saves land in crowded burial locations; some cemeteries allow multiple urns to be buried or stored in a single plot.
Growing Religious Acceptance of Cremation
In the past, cremation was frowned upon, if not held totally taboo, by many who followed what were considered traditional Judeo-Christian teachings. While some Americans still hold beliefs that make cremation an unlikely choice, a growing number of religious individuals today don’t see cremation as a problem. The growing acceptance of the practice among people of various faiths has allowed cremains to become part of religious and memorial services honoring lost loved ones. The ability to incorporate cremains into such services is important to many who might not otherwise choose cremation.
Planning for Cremation Early
While cremation is often a less expensive option than traditional burial, cremation costs — like any prices — are increasing with time. Pre-planning and prepaying for cremation can help you reduce the overall cost of an eventual burial or memorial service. Working with cremation professionals, such as those at Neptune Society, can help you understand your options.