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Origin of Cremations in Western Countries March 15, 2022

Cremation services - the origin of cremation

It may be surprising for some to learn that while cremation has been traced back to the Stone Age, it has a relatively short history in the West and the United States. Today, cremation has exceeded traditional burial in popularity in the U.S. Here is a quick look at the history of cremation:

Early Cremations

Original evidence of cremation has been traced to the Stone Age, dating from about 3,000 BC. Artifacts found indicate that cremation spread across Northern Europe and into Western Russia during this period.

Bronze Age

As the world moved into the Bronze Age from about 2500 BC to 1000 BC, the popularity of cremations continued to spread.

They moved northward through the British Isles and Ireland and southwest to Spain and Portugal. Cemeteries containing cremains dated back to Hungary and Italy during this time.

Mycenaean Age

Cremations gained widespread acceptance in Greece and the region as many warriors died in battle. The government encouraged cremation for expedience and health reasons. Increasingly elaborate ceremonies also took place during this time. The popularity of the practice continued through Roman times. It was here cremains began being stored in more decorative urns and placed in elaborate columned buildings.

While popular in Rome, early Christians and Jews avoided cremation for religious beliefs. Cremation fell out of favor with Constantine’s conversion to Christianity in about 400 AD.

Modern Cremation in the West

Cremation entered the Modern Age with the invention of an efficient chamber to cremate bodies in 1873. By 1874, the first Cremation Society was formed in England and the practice grew popular again in England and Germany.

The first crematory was built in the United States in Washington, Pennsylvania in 1876. The second one was opened 8 years later in Lancaster, PA. Cremation popularity was fueled by health concerns surrounding early cemeteries, and by 1900 there were 20 crematories in the U.S. – many in the Midwest.

However, the rapid rise in the acceptance of cremations has been even more recent. In 1975, for example, there were about 1,500 crematories, accounting for about 25% of all deaths. By 1999, the crematories doubled to 3,000 and cremations replaced traditional burials in popularity, accounting for 54%.

Today, the number of cremations continues to grow. Versatility, cost, and acceptance have played large roles in the growing popularity of the process. If you have questions or would like to know more, please feel free to contact the Cremation Society of Greater Cincinnati. We would be proud to assist you.

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