42,000 Year Old Ritual

Cremation: An Ancient Practice

Known only as Mungo Man, an individual who walked the earth some 42,000 years ago provides us with what is believed to be the earliest example of cremation in human history. He’s established a lively debate, since it is generally agreed by most scholars that cremation began about 3000 BC, during the early Stone Age in Europe,[1]but in 1974, Jim Bowler of the University of Melbourne discovered Mungo Man’s remains in the Willandra Lakes Region of Australia that challenge that date.[2]

It appears that Mungo Man’s cremation was far more than a means of disposal. The remains show that the body was burned once, processed in some fashion, burned again and then treated with ochre, a pigment from a nearby source. These treatments suggest that the cremation was a ceremony of importance, a ritual to honor the individual.


Views Change with Time

Cremation has been practiced throughout the world. For pre-Christian Greeks and Romans it was a standard practice. Hindus and Buddhists have practiced cremation since their very beginnings, the funeral pyre symbolizing purification and the transformation from the physical to the non-physical. Burial has been the traditional practice within Judaism, Islam, and Christianity in accordance with religious and Biblical tradition. Since 1963, when the Pope sanctioned cremation, the practice has steadily increased, and indeed in all these religions, growing numbers are choosing cremation today.

 Cremation Trend Continues to Grow

In the 1960s, cremation in the United States was less than 4%. Today it is nearly 50%.[3]While many authorities attribute the increase in cremation to economics, other reasons for choosing cremation have become increasingly predominant. The simplicity of cremation and the wide variety of memorialization opportunities perhaps hold the greatest appeal. With every passing year, we are becoming a more transient society and cremation offers portability, simplicity, and the ability to keep the remains of those we love close to us.

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Cremation: A Brief History