A Brief History of Cemeteries
by: Joel GAzis-SAx
Between 20,000 and 75,000 years ago, Neanderthals began to bury their dead. The first burials, however, may have been quite unintentional.
The following is an excerpt. To read the complete article visit the
website, City of the Silent.
Hunters who were wounded or ill were left behind by compatriots who sealed them in caves to protect them from wild animals. When they recovered enough, they were supposed to push the stones away. Some didn't get better and became interesting archaeological finds with spears and other personal effects.
Evidence of many of our contemporary customs appears at Neanderthal sites. At Iraq's Sharindar Cave, for example, flowers were left with a burial. Personal effects accompany other burials. Neanderthals also began the practice of carefully orienting the body on an East-West axis or so that the corpse faced east. (Orthodox Christian cemeteries maintain this tradition.) If the hiding of the dead body was not, at first, a ritualized attempt to renew the deceased through planting, it was an early precursor of sedentariness.
The first cities may have been cities of the dead, complexes of grave mounds whose walls were adapted to other purposes. We know that the Saxons, for one, used their burrowing skills to signify prestige. Dead men of great reputation were covered with more dirt than their lessers. This covering over the dead was called a barrow. The mythic significance of these structures and their relationship to other aspects of community life may have been an afterthought.
Joel maintains a web site called City of the Silent,
devoted to understanding and appreciating cemeteries. Inside
you will find additional articles that tell you how to do tombstone chronologies, histories,
calendars, stories of people buried in San Francisco's city of the dead (Colma), and other
materials that will help you understand how we remember those who have gone on.
** The original version of this article appeared in Alsirat, a horror anthology.