cremation

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cremation,

disposal of a corpse by fire. It is an ancient and widespread practice, second only to burialburial,
disposal of a corpse in a grave or tomb. The first evidence of deliberate burial was found in European caves of the Paleolithic period. Prehistoric discoveries include both individual and communal burials, the latter indicating that pits or ossuaries were unsealed for
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. It has been found among the tribes of the Pacific Northwest, among Northern Athapascan bands in Alaska, and among Canadian cultural groups. It was noted in Greece as early as 1000 B.C. and was the predominant mode of corpse disposal by the time of Homer. Until the advent of Christianity as the dominant religion in the Roman empire, cremation was widely accepted.

The practice of cremation in the West gained new favor with the rise of large cities and the realization of the health hazard associated with crowded cemeteries. In the late 19th cent., the practice was legalized in several European countries and the first crematory in the United States was built. The practice is widely accepted in many Western countries today, although it is not as common in the United States.

The use of cremation is often related to a belief in the properties of fire as a purifying agent. Its object may also be to light the way of the deceased to another world, or to prevent the return of the dead. More practical considerations include the fear of depredation by enemies and, in the modern world, the physical shortage of land in urban areas.

The earliest known method of cremation was the log pyre. In more elaborate practices, pitch and gums are added to the wood. Modern crematories expose the corpse not to flames, but to intense heat that reduces the body (except for some bones, which are crushed) to ashes. Disposal of the ashes varies in different parts of the world. Hindus, for whom cremation is the typical form of disposal, place them in urns or put them in a river, preferably the sacred Ganges. Other methods include burial, scattering, or preservation in a decorative urn. Concerns about the release into the air of mercury from dental fillings has led to the need for emission filtration systems at crematories; alternative methods for the disposal of a corpse, such as alkaline hydrolysis (in which the body tissues, except for bone, are dissolved), also have been developed in response.

See also sutteesuttee
[Skt. sati=faithful wife], former Indian funeral practice in which the widow immolated herself on her husband's funeral pyre. The practice of killing a favorite wife on her husband's grave has been found in many parts of the world; it was followed by such peoples
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.

Bibliography

For bibliography see funeral customsfuneral customs,
rituals surrounding the death of a human being and the subsequent disposition of the corpse. Such rites may serve to mark the passage of a person from life into death, to secure the welfare of the dead, to comfort the living, and to protect the living from the
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.

Cremation

 

the burning of corpses in special furnaces, a type of funeral.

The practice of burning corpses began in the late Neolithic and early Bronze ages. The burning of corpses on bonfires was widespread among the Greeks, Romans, and some other ancient peoples; the ancient Slavs also practiced it. Cremation has also been practiced in Japan since ancient times, as it has in India and other countries of Southeast Asia, primarily where Buddhism and Hinduism are preached. With the spread of Christianity, especially in the European countries, where it became the dominant religion, cremation was forbidden, since Christianity considered it a heathen ritual that contradicted the Christian doctrine of a “life after death” and “the resurrection from the dead.” Only in the second half of the 19th century did the burning of corpses begin again in European countries. Special furnaces were designed for cremation, in which burning proceeded in a jet of extremely hot air (up to 1000°C), the first crematories were built (Milan in 1876, London in 1885, Stockholm in 1887), and requirements for cremation were developed.

The advantage of cremation over the other methods of disposing of corpses lies in the complete and rapid (1–1.5 hours) destruction of the corpse’s organic substances under rigorously hygienic conditions. In the USSR cremation was sanctioned by a decree of the Council of People’s Commissars of the RSFSR of Dec. 7, 1918. Beginning in the 1920’s and 1930’s cremation came into wide use in many countries. After cremation, the ashes are placed in an urn and are stored in columbaria or are buried in the ground.

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