What is the history of cremation?

Burning a corpse as a final rite of passage has been carried out since prehistoric times. There is proof that people set bodies a fire in China as early as 8000 B.C. Cremation was commonly embraced in some parts of Greece but never spread throughout the region, fading away by 480 B.C. In Sweden, a greater number of funerals were cremations during the course of the Iron Age and Viking Age, but ceased as Christianity was introduced (A.D. 1050). In the Western Roman Empire, cremation was the norm until the first century A.D., often connected with military honors. With the influence of Christianity, cremation was looked down upon and vanished almost entirely in Europe by the fifth century A.D., except in extreme cases like epidemics or war.

During the French Revolution, factions such as the Freemasons, revolutionaries and anarchists encouraged cremation in an effort to lessen the church's role in the funeral process. Partly because of this connection, the Roman Catholic Church contested the use of cremation until the 20th century.

In Asia, cremation rose up in popularity in areas of Buddhist influence during certain dynasties in China and Korea until about A.D. 1300. The arrival of Neo-Confucianism in the 14th century led burials back to the forefront in regions of Asia.

Modern cremation started during the late 1800s with the creation of a practical cremation chamber by Professor Brunetti, who introduced it at the 1873 Vienna Exposition. Heralded by Queen Victoria's surgeon, Sir Henry Thompson, and fueled by public alarm for hygiene and health and clerical desires to modify burial practices, crematories slowly began appearing in Europe and abroad. The first modern American crematory was launched in Pennsylvania in 1876.

Today, cremation is accepted in at least 31 countries around the world, with cremation rates ranging from less than 2 percent in Ghana to more than 75 percent in Switzerland.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.