Scholars today quite generally agree that the history of cremation or turning bodies into ashes probably began, in any real sense, during the early Stone Age - around 3000 B.C. - and most likely in Europe and the Near East.
During the late Stone Age the history of cremation information began to spread across northern Europe, as evidenced by particularly informative finds of decorative pottery urns in western Russia among the Slavic peoples.
With the advent of the Bronze Age - 2500 to 1000 B.C. - cremation history moved into the British Isles and into what is now Spain and Portugal. Cemeteries for cremation developed in Hungary and northern Italy, spreading to northern Europe and even Ireland.
In the Mycenaean Age - circa 1000 B.C. - The history cremation became an integral part of the elaborate Grecian burial custom. In fact, it became the dominant mode of disposition by the time of Homer in 800 B.C. and was actually encouraged to be made into ashes for reasons of health and expedient burial of slain warriors in this battle ravaged country.
Following cremation history this Grecian trend, the early Romans probably embraced cremation and ashes some time around 600 B.C. and it apparently became so prevalent that an official decree had to be issued in the mid 5th Century against the cremation of bodies within the city.
By the time of the Roman Empire - 27 B.C. to 395 A.D. - cremation was widely practiced, and cremated remains were generally stored in elaborate cremation urns, often within columbarium-like buildings for the ashes.
Prevalent though the practice was among the Romans, cremation was rare with the early Christians who considered ashes to be pagan and in the Jewish culture where traditional sepulcher entombment was preferred.
However, by 400 A.D., as a result of Constantine's Christianization of the Empire, earth burial had completely replaced cremation ashes and the use of cremation urns except for rare instances of plague or war, and for the next 1,500 years remained the accepted mode of disposition throughout Europe.
Modern cremation history, as we know it, actually began only a little over a century ago, after years of experimentation into the development of a dependable chamber. When Professor Brunetti of Italy finally perfected his model and displayed it at the 1873 Vienna Exposition, the history of the cremation movement started almost simultaneously on both sides of the Atlantic.
In the British Isles, the movement was fostered by Queen Victoria's surgeon, Sir Henry Thompson. 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 1878 in Woking, England and Gotha, Germany.
Meanwhile in North America, although there had been two recorded instances of cremation history before 1800, the real start began in 1876 when Dr. Julius LeMoyne built the first crematory to make ashes in Washington, Pennsylvania.
In 1884 the second crematory opened in Lancaster, Pennsylvania and, as was true of many of the early crematories, it was owned and operated by a cremation society. Other forces behind early crematory history were Protestant clergy who desired to reform burial practices and the medical profession concerned with health conditions around early cemeteries. Once again the thought was that ashes were a healthier alternative to burial.
Crematories soon sprang up in Buffalo, New York, Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, Detroit and Los Angeles. By 1900, there were already 20 crematories in operation, and by the time that Dr. Hugo Erichsen founded the Cremation Association of America in 1913, there were 52 crematories in North America and over 10,000 cremations took place in that year.
In 1975, the name was changed to the Cremation Association of North America to be more indicative of the membership composition of the United States and Canada. At that time, there were over 425 crematories and nearly 150,000 cremations all ending in ashes.
In 2006 the history of cremation accelerated to over 700,000 cremations for a total of 32% of all American deaths ended with cremation. In 2009 with a ressesion in the USA, the cremation rate was booming as it topped 40%.
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