Ancient peoples used burial chambers, cairns, for example. Our far ancestors have used burial formalities that, like all else, evolved over the centuries. For example, a grave marking could be simple, with some symbol, like a wooden cross, if it was a Christian burial. This in itself, may not have been proof that the remains were that of a fellow Christian, just that a particular kind of burial was undertaken. Some graves were marked with stones and in Scotland, there are many stone piles to be found, especially on hills, built up as memorials to an event. They have become the smaller, modern version of the cairn.
War graves are commonly marked with a religious symbol, or a stone with a symbol incised on it. Today, in war torn areas where many inhabitants have been forced to become desensitized to the constant violence and carnage around them, and where it has been possible, some kind of marker is placed on a grave, just so that, apart from the practicalities of burial, it feels like what is ‘ decent ‘ has been done.
Some of the grandest monuments were saved for emperors, kings and princes, the obvious ones being the Egyptian Pyramids. From this, it can be safely deduced, I believe, that there was a lot of preparation for death and perversely, a celebration of or for the dead. There are classical stories that relate to journeys into the afterlife which, perhaps, these celebrations were designed to ease.
Highly decoratively carved tombs, would be afforded by the wealthy. Or, the money raised for a grand memorial would have been obtained from the immediate society that should have been grateful for the existence of the exalted personage. One of the Dukes of Sutherland’s Memorial, high on a hill in Golspie, Sutherland, Scotland, is such an example.
All this, leaves us to suppose, justifiably, that the poor could not rise to anything memorially noteworthy and had to keep their funeral arrangements low key. The parish poor committee would often be called upon to arrange anonymous paupers’ graves, a practice that continued for centuries. There are still similar practices in force, though not necessarily quite so stark. Also, today, religious organisations can be called upon to bury members of their community, unfortunate enough to be without means, and at the very least, with an identity marker on the grave and a record of where the individual lies.
However, it can be seen, over the centuries there have been some very ornate tombs and mausoleum designs, a great number for churchmen. There are plenty neo-classical stone features to be found in many a necropolis, which are recent additions. Observing the gravestones, the mausoleums, the ornamentation in the cemeteries we have today, we can see they tell us social stories,some are ones, where lives have been cut off too soon. Others are surprising, that in times when life expectancy was much lower, (you were lucky to get to the biblical three score years and ten) following amazing exploits, wars, social deprivation, and so on, they lived to ripe old ages that would be great even by today’s standards.
A recent visit to a cemetery left me pondering about the incumbent of one tomb. The table top stone was weather worn, so difficult to identify who lay within. However, incised on one of the sides of the top stone, therefore, much protected from the elements, was carved;