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  • Spindly trees,

  • rusted gates,

  • crumbling stone,

  • a solitary mourner

  • these things come to mind when we think of cemeteries.

  • But not so long ago,

  • many burial grounds were lively places,

  • with blooming gardens and crowds of people strolling among the headstones.

  • How did our cemeteries become what they are today?

  • Some have been around for centuries,

  • like the world's largest, Wadi al-Salaam,

  • where more than five million people are buried.

  • But most of the places we'd recognize as cemeteries are much younger.

  • In fact, for much of human history,

  • we didn't bury our dead at all.

  • Our ancient ancestors had many other ways of parting with the dead loved ones.

  • Some were left in caves,

  • others in trees

  • or on mountaintops.

  • Still others were sunk in lakes,

  • put out to sea,

  • ritually cannibalized,

  • or cremated.

  • All of these practices,

  • though some may seem strange today,

  • were ways of venerating the dead.

  • By contrast, the first known burials

  • about 120,000 years ago

  • were likely reserved for transgressors,

  • excluding them from the usual rites intended to honor the dead.

  • But the first burials revealed some advantages over other practices:

  • they protected bodies from scavengers and the elements,

  • while shielding loved ones from the sight of decay.

  • These benefits may have shifted ancient people's thinking toward graves designed to honor the dead,

  • and burial became more common.

  • Sometimes, these graves contained practical or ritual objects,

  • suggesting belief in an afterlife, when the dead might need such tools.

  • Communal burials first appeared in North Africa and West Asia

  • around 10 to 15,000 years ago,

  • around the same time as the first permanent settlements in these areas.

  • These burial grounds created permanent places to commemorate the dead.

  • The nomadic Scythians littered the steppes with grave mounds known as kurgans.

  • The Etruscans built expansive necropoles,

  • their grid-patterned streets lined with tombs.

  • In Rome, subterranean catacombs housed

  • both cremation urns and intact remains.

  • The word cemetery, orsleeping chamber,”

  • was first used by ancient Greeks,

  • who built tombs in graveyards at the edges of their cities.

  • In medieval European cities,

  • Christian churchyards provided rare, open spaces

  • that accommodated the dead,

  • but also hosted markets, fairs, and other events.

  • Farmers even grazed cattle in them,

  • believing graveyard grass made for sweeter milk.

  • As cities grew during the industrial revolution,

  • large suburban cemeteries replaced smaller urban churchyards.

  • Cemeteries like the 110-acrere-Lachaise in Paris

  • or the 72-acre Mt. Auburn in Cambridge, Massachusetts

  • were lushly landscaped gardens

  • filled with sculpted stones

  • and ornate tombs.

  • Once a luxury reserved for the rich and powerful,

  • individually marked graves became available to the middle and working classes.

  • People visited cemeteries for funerals,

  • but also for anniversaries, holidays,

  • or simply an afternoon outdoors.

  • By the late 19th century, as more public parks and botanical gardens appeared,

  • cemeteries began to lose visitors.

  • Today, many old cemeteries are lonely places.

  • Some are luring visitors back with tours,

  • concerts, and other attractions.

  • But even as we revive old cemeteries,

  • we're rethinking the future of burial.

  • Cities like London, New York, and Hong Kong

  • are running out of burial space.

  • Even in places where space isn't so tight,

  • cemeteries permanently occupy land

  • that can't be otherwise cultivated or developed.

  • Traditional burial consumes materials

  • like metal, stone, and concrete,

  • and can pollute soil and groundwater with toxic chemicals.

  • With increasing awareness of the environmental costs,

  • people are seeking alternatives.

  • Many are turning to cremation and related practices.

  • Along with these more conventional practices,

  • people can now have their remains shot into space,

  • used to fertilize a tree,

  • or made into jewelry,

  • fireworks,

  • and even tattoo ink.

  • In the future, options like these may replace burial completely.

  • Cemeteries may be our most familiar monuments to the departed,

  • but they're just one step in our ever-evolving process of remembering and honoring the dead.

  • All living things die, but is resurrection possible?

  • And, what's the actual difference between a living creature and a dead body anyway?

  • Check out this lesson to find out.

Spindly trees,

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B2 US TED-Ed burial dead ancient acre reserved

The fascinating history of cemeteries - Keith Eggener

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    shuting1215 posted on 2018/11/04
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