Two people sitting on benches along a path

 

Written by Jacob Terranova

 

Throughout history, society has set aside space to memorialize their dead.

 

Some 300,000 years ago, early humans had modest grave fields filled with flowers for their loved ones. Ancient Egyptians and Romans built elaborate structures to honor their dead.

 

As societies evolved, so did our final resting places. Let’s look at the history of the cemeteries used to honor, memorialize, and remember our loved ones.

 

Monumental Cemeteries

Monumental cemeteries are a traditional style. Burial sites are marked with ornate granite monuments and headstones, made up of angels, obelisks, and other symbols. These large slabs of concrete and granite sometimes cover the whole burial site of the deceased. And in some cemeteries, personal fences surround the burial site.

 

The monumental cemetery is so iconic because the style is one of the oldest in the world. And sadly, because of the fact, many of the ornate monuments are in states of disrepair or decay.

 

The symbols on these monuments vary by culture, but typically they are common symbols of Christianity. That’s because churches have historically owned and operated most graveyards. According to the Encyclopedia of Death and Dying, “From approximately the tenth century the parish churchyard was the most common burial ground in all Christian countries.” These early graveyards were primarily located in or near the center of towns. That’s because the churchyard was a focal point of daily community activity.

 

The Cemitério da Consolação in Brazil is one famous example of the monumental cemetery.

 

Garden and Rural Cemeteries

As cities began to grow, cemeteries and burial grounds began to change. Two major reasons caused this to happen. One was that cities were running out of space. The other was that having decomposing bodies in urban areas became a health hazard. As a result, societies began placing burial grounds out in rural and open areas. In fact, some garden cemeteries even became the first public parks because of the open space they provided.

 

The first example of this cemetery style began with British architect Sir Christopher Wren in the early 1700s. Wren believed burial grounds should have landscaped designs, with elaborate walkways and well-maintained trees and gardens.

 

The style quickly spread in Britain and throughout the rest of Europe, eventually reaching the United States. Prior to the 1830s, the United States didn’t have any large designated burial grounds. Back then, families buried the deceased on the family property in a simple grave.

 

In an interview with the Atlantic, Keith Eggener, an associate professor of American Art in Architecture, said that garden cemeteries were “quite important spaces for recreation as well. Keep in mind, the great rural cemeteries were built at a time when there weren’t public parks, or art museums, or botanical gardens in American cities. You suddenly had large pieces of ground, filled with beautiful sculptures and horticultural art. People flocked to cemeteries for picnics, for hunting and shooting and carriage racing.”

 

An early example is the Mount Auburn Cemetery in Massachusetts.

 

Lawn Cemeteries

Lawn cemeteries are the modern cemeteries we think of today. They consist of big open lawns with rows of uniform square headstones.

 

The lawn cemetery design was introduced by Adolph Strauch in 1855 in Cincinnati. A major reason that this style became popular was because of how easy lawn cemeteries are to maintain compared to garden and monument cemeteries. Even today, the lawn cemetery remains one of the most popular designs for cemeteries in the U.S.

 

An example of the lawn style is the Spring Grove Cemetery in Ohio.

 

Natural Cemeteries

The natural cemetery, sometimes called a green cemetery, is an emerging trend among today’s cemeteries. A natural cemetery has burial restrictions that involve the use of eco-friendly and recycled materials and prohibit the practice of embalming. Natural cemeteries allow for rapid decomposition so that the body can quickly return to nature. According to the Green Burial Council, there are three different types of natural burial grounds — hybrid, natural, and conservation burial grounds. Each type has a different set of requirements when it comes to burial.

 

An example of a natural cemetery is the Penn Forest Natural Burial Park in Pennsylvania.

 

Future Cemeteries

It’s expected that both our funeral traditions and need for space will influence how we bury the dead in the future. So what could a cemetery look like 10-20 years down the line? It’s hard to say for certain, but that hasn’t stopped people from speculating. Here are a few of the ideas proposed: