A BRIEF HISTORY OF CREMATION

"Cremation is a process used to reduce a body and its container to ashes and small bone fragments. Intense heat converts the body to its basic components, idealized as 'ashes to ashes, dust to dust.'"

Cremation came into practice during the early Stone Age or around 3000 BC, according to modern scholars. Cremation most likely found its origin in Europe and the Near East before spreading into Northern Europe and western Russia.

The Bronze Age saw the continuing spread of cremation to encompass the British Isles and what is now Spain and Portugal. This period, from 2500 to 1000 BC, witnessed the creation of cemeteries for cremation in Hungary and Northern Italy as popularity grew.

The Greek culture embraced cremation during the Mycenaean Age. It was soon a part of the Grecian burial custom. By the time of Homer in 800 BC, cremation had become the dominant method of final disposition and was encouraged for reasons of health and expedient burial in times when the peopleʼs death toll was high, such as during war.

The people of Rome were quick to follow suit and adopt cremation as the preferred method of final disposition (around 600 BC). Cremation became so prevalent that an official decree was issued in the fifth century, restricting final disposition to cremation within the city. By the time of the Roman Empire, cremated remains were generally stored in ornate urns, often within columbarium-like structures (where the term "columbarium" originated).

Although the practice was prevalent among Romans and other Europeans, cremation was rare with the early Christians and the Jewish culture. Many Christians had developed the misconception that cremation was a pagan practice (fire), while Jewish people preferred traditional sepulcher entombment. By 400 AD, Constantine's Christianization of the Roman Empire led to the replacement of cremation with earth burial, except in times of plague and war. During the 1,500 years that followed, earth burial remained Europe's preference.

Modern cremation actually began only a little over a century ago, after years of experimentation in hopes of developing a dependable cremation chamber. Professor Brunetti of Italy perfected his model and displayed it at the 1873 Vienna Exposition. Brunetti's model sparked a simultaneous movement towards cremation on both sides of the Atlantic.

In the British Isles, the movement was encouraged by Queen Victoria's surgeon, Sir Henry Thomson, who was concerned with hazardous health conditions. Sir Henry and his colleagues founded the Cremation Society of England in 1874. The first crematories in Europe were built in the next few years.

At the same time in North America, Dr. Julius LeMoyne built the first crematory in Washington, Pennsylvania. Prior to 1800, there had only been two recorded instances of cremation in North America.

Early crematory openings gained massive support from the Protestant clergy who desired to reform burial practices, and the medical profession concerned with health conditions around early cemeteries. Crematories soon sprang up in cities such as Buffalo, Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, Detroit, and Los Angeles. By 1900 there were already 20 crematories in operation. When Dr. Hugo Erichsen founded the Cremation Association of America 13 years later, there were 52 crematories in North America and over 10,000 cremations took place that year. In 1975, the association changed their name to the Cremation Association of North America to include members not only in the United States, but Canada as well. At the time, there were over 425 crematories and nearly 150,000 cremations.

In 1994, there were 1,100 crematories and over 470,000 cremations. Both the number of crematories and people who choose cremation over earth burial has continued to grow at astounding rates as a result of the practice's acceptance in religious communities, cost efficiency, environmental benefits, and approval from medical professionals for its potentially less hazardous means of final disposition.

In 1999, there were 1,468 crematories and 595,617 cremations, a percentage of 25.39% of all deaths in the United States.