For as long as people have been alive, people have died. Death is one of the true facts of life and everyone’s life is not only marked by their own death at the end but by the passing of many others known to and loved by them along the way.
For almost as long as there have been humans, there have been graves. Human funerary rituals have provided a valuable insight into the lives and experiences of our ancient ancestors and give us a glimpse at what life and death would have been like for those who came before us.
Ancient primitive burial
From as early as 11,000 BC, maybe even earlier, our primitive ancestors buried their fellows after their death. In a process that has changed little in its intention since these ancient times, our early Homo sapiens cousins took their family members and fallen tribal fellows and buried them in mounds.
Even in these prehistoric times, burial mounds were often topped with piles of neatly organised stones to mark the place of interment. This practice of making monuments to the dead has gone on since time immemorial. Throughout history, marking the passing of the dead and particularly those that were particularly well-respected or well-loved has gone from strength to strength.
Funeral monuments on a grand scale
Some of the world’s most breath-taking sights can trace their conception back to paying tribute to the dead. In Egypt, the erection of the pyramids was done to provide lavish burial tombs for fallen leaders in the belief that they would be able to take their possessions with them to the next life. The pyramids have yielded some fascinating archaeological treasures that have allowed us to learn a vast amount about the ancient Egyptians and their lives through the way they celebrated and marked their deaths.
One of the most spectacular burial tombs in the world is the Taj Mahal in Agra, India. Built by the Mughal emperor to honour the death of his third wife, the tomb is set in ornate gardens and inside is decorated with painting, ornate carving and precious gemstones. Thought to have taken 21 years to complete, the monument is less of a grave and more a palace for the dead.
Burial in Britain
The practice of interring the deceased in the UK has changed over the years, but through the past 400 or so years very little has altered. For many people the burial plot is decorated with the erection of some kind of memorial or headstone to commemorate the life of the person who lies buried there.
From relatively simple carved headstones with the name and dates of birth and death through to elaborate plots, many people take the creation of a burial plot that represents the individual and their life very seriously. Church graveyards are filled with memorials that show winged angels and cherubs and doves to represent the hoped-for passage of loved ones to a paradise beyond the grave.
Burial has been a part of life for almost as long as there has been life on earth. The way in which our ancestors chose to mark the passing of their kinsmen has taught us a great deal about how those who came before us lived and died. Today, the selection of gravestones and memorials enables families to pay tribute to their loved ones in a way that commemorates their life.