The History of Cremation

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The History of Cremation

The general consensus among scholars is that cremation likely began during the early Stone Age, around 3000 B.C., in Europe and the Near East. It spread across northern Europe during the late Stone Age, as seen through the discovery of decorative pottery urns among Slavic peoples in western Russia. The Bronze Age saw cremation move into the British Isles, Spain, Portugal, Hungary, and northern Italy, eventually spreading to Ireland.

Cremation became an integral part of Grecian burial customs in the Mycenaean Age and became the dominant mode of disposition by 800 B.C. In ancient Rome, cremation became prevalent around 600 B.C. but was later prohibited by an official decree in the mid-5th century due to its widespread use. During the Roman Empire, cremated remains were stored in elaborate urns and columbarium-like buildings.

Cremation was rare among early Christians and in Jewish culture, where traditional sepulcher entombment was preferred. However, by 400 A.D., earth burial had completely replaced cremation, except for rare instances of plague or war, and remained the accepted mode of disposition throughout Europe for the next 1,500 years.

Modern cremation as we know it began in the late 19th century, with the development of a dependable chamber by Professor Ludovico Brunetti of Italy. The cremation movement started almost simultaneously on both sides of the Atlantic, with the Cremation Society of England being founded in 1874 by Sir Henry Thompson, Queen Victoria’s surgeon. The first crematories in Europe were built in 1878 in Woking, England, and Gotha, Germany. In North America, Dr. Julius LeMoyne built the first crematory in Washington, Pennsylvania, in 1876, and by 1913, there were 52 crematories in North America.

According to the latest available statistics from the Canadian government, in 2019, the cremation rate in Canada was 74.8%. This means that out of all deaths in Canada that year, nearly 3 out of 4 resulted in cremation rather than burial. The cremation rate has been steadily increasing over the years, with a rate of 68.6% in 2014 and 58.7% in 2009.

It’s worth noting that cremation rates can vary significantly by province or territory. For example, in 2019, the highest cremation rate was in British Columbia at 89.2%, while the lowest was in Nunavut at 18.8%. Factors such as cultural traditions and religious beliefs can influence a person’s decision to choose cremation or burial.

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