QUEBEC-RESEARCH-L ArchivesArchiver > QUEBEC-RESEARCH > 2005-01 > 1105571032
Subject: Excerpt Of History
Date: Wed, 12 Jan 2005 18:03:52 EST
A Brief History of Cemeteries
Between 20,000 and 75,000 years ago, Neanderthals began to bury their dead.
The first burials, however, may have been quite unintentional.
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 lessors. 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.