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Ancient Cremation vs Modern Cremation: Part II

By the time 100 AD rolled around, the use of cremation fires tapered off. One of the reasons the practice suffered in popularity was the spread of Christianity. The early church did not come right out and ban this form of burial, but the burning of a body was extremely frowned upon. For starters, it’s a practice associated with Pagans. Secondly, the act of bringing a corpse to ash goes against the belief that resurrection of the body will take place on Judgment Day.

However, some historians beg to differ with the reasoning behind the end of cremations. Around 100 AD, the Roman Empire suffered an extreme shortage of wood. Many trees were used in the creation of funeral pyres and the practice was taking its toll on the environment. Since wood was needed for the construction of fortresses and ships, using timber for funerals took a backseat to other important necessities.

The Modern Practice of Cremation

Fast-forward to 19th century England and modern cremation has made a comeback, but this time, the approach is much different. The remains of the dead are now burned with the assistance of bottled gas , the same kind used in the typical kitchen oven. With elevated temperatures inside of a furnace and specialized draft control that keeps the cremains in place, the average-sized man takes 1 ½ hours to become a couple of pounds of white ash with fragments of bone.

In 1874, the modern version of cremation piqued throughout the United States and Europe. The public begins to learn more about the process when the surgeon for Queen Victoria publishes a book called ‘Cremation: The Treatment of the Body After Death.’ In the book, the surgeon speaks of the sanitary side of cremation. He is also responsible for establishing the Cremation Society of England. Cremation also solved an increasingly significant problem. Cemeteries were becoming overcrowded , to the point that it was deemed a health hazard to even visit a grave.

The First Modern Crematory

While the first modern crematory was built in 1876 in Washington, Pennsylvania and the New York Cremation Society was formed in 1881, it was still hard to overcome the overall American public perception of cremation. Many felt that it went against religious beliefs and was socially unacceptable. By 1970, only 8% of the dead in America were cremated. The concept spread like wildfire throughout England, Denmark and West Germany, where more than 50% of burials involved cremation.

Over time, religious views became more accepting, especially when shortages in cemetery spaces started to threaten more and more urban regions. America began to show new trends over time. The West Coast was the first part of the United States to truly fall in line. During the early 1980s, more than 40% of cremation performed took place in Hawaii, Oregon, Washington, California, and Alaska. The states with the least amount of cremations were Kentucky, Mississippi, Tennessee, and Alabama.