As early as 3000 B.C., cremation was the dominant disposition method of the peoples of Northern Europe and the Near East and quickly spread to the British Isles, Spain, Portugal, and Italy. The elaborate and culturally significant burial rituals of Ancient Greece included cremation as an expedient way to honor those who died in the service of their country. While the popularity of cremation dropped in early Christianity, replaced by earth burial for almost 1,500 years, the development of a reliable cremation chamber by Professor Brunetti in 1873 created a resurgence of the cremation movement on both sides of the Atlantic. Today, cremation is quickly becoming the most popular method of disposition in North America.
Bronze Age Cremation
Thanks to an informative archaeological find of decorative pottery urns in Russia, it can be surmised that cremation spread from Europe during the late Stone Age into the Asian continent. The Bronze age saw further expansion into Eastern and Southern Europe, and made its way to Greece by 1000 B.C. This, the Mycenaean age, was a time of war and conflict for Greece, and burial of the dead was of utmost importance to guarantee the faithful warriors acceptance into the afterlife. With such a high death toll, burial became impossible to perform for all of the dead. With the weight placed on proper rituals over the deceased, cremation became an integral part of Grecian culture. It is likely that the lost warriors of one of the most incendiary conflicts in Greece’s history, the Trojan War, would have been cremated. By the time of Homer, author of the epics the Iliad and the Odyssey, in the 7th century B.C., cremation was the primary mode of disposition. This trend was adopted by the early Romans around 600 B.C.
Cremation in Modern Times
In the summer of 1873, Vienna, Austria welcomed over 7.25 million visitors to the Vienna International Exposition. Among the presenters was Professor Brunetti of Italy. Having perfected his model of a dependable cremation chamber, his presentation created a new wave of cremation popularity. This development led to Sir Henry Thompson, Queen Victoria’s surgeon, founding the Cremation Society of England in 1874. By 1878, crematories had been built in Woking, England, and Gotha, Germany.
In 1876, Dr. Julius LeMoyne built the first crematory in the United States in Washington, Pennsylvania. Like most at the time, the crematories built during this fledgling stage were operated by cremation societies. Protestant clergy and those in the medical profession both supported the use of cremation rather than burial. In just under 15 years, there were 20 crematories in operation in the U.S. This number had more than doubled by 1913, the year Dr. Hugo Erichsen founded the Cremation Association of America (renamed the Cremation Association of North America in 1975). Only about 100 years after CANA’s inception, in 2009, 36.84% of all deaths were handled through cremation. By 2018, it is anticipated that percentage will grow to over half of all deaths.
The availability and popularity of cremation is unprecedented and will continue to grow. While cultures have changed, cremation remains constant. The only thing hundreds of years have changed is the ease with which a cremation can be planned and carried out. Martin Oaks, an affiliate of the Cremation Association of North America, uses its 30+ years of experience in the cremation industry to provide all the resources one needs to plan for their own or a loved ones’ cremation.
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