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A brief history of funeral rites

Recent anthropological studies have found that the belief in supernatural spirits, the spirits of the ancestors, the great gods, appeared with the prehistoric hunters-gatherers from the Paleolithic. Funerary practices became more complex during the Neolithic period, when Homo sapiens settled down and with the emergence of those practises, more stable and more prosperous societies appeared. First buried in or near homes alone or in collective pits, the remains are later separated from the areas of daily life in dedicated spaces next to villages.
Different burial sites were found. Although excavations of those prehistoric tombs show social and cultural concern to protect the bodies from scavengers and from environmental influences, these burial practises are not clear evidence of religious practises and we don't know if prehistoric men believed in an Afterlife, in relations between the living and the dead. For now, nothing seems to indicate that religious funeral rites appeared so early in our history. The first traces of burial dating from 100,000 years ago and showing religious burial practises were found by archaeologists in the Middle East.

In the Egyptian funeral practises the embalmed mummified body was completely dressed by an intertwining of strips and protective amulets, put in a grave with objects and papyrus of funerary texts, for the journey in the afterlife and the meeting with Anubis. The latter was in charge of the weighing of the heart of the deceased compared with the weight of the feather of Maât, symbol of Truth and Justice. Her feather was the measure that determined whether the souls (considered to reside in the heart) of the departed would reach the paradise of afterlife successfully.
In Greek religion and mythology Hermes was the conductor of souls into the afterlife,he conducts the deceased to Hades, the god of underworld.

Later various funeral practises consisting of customary observances for the dead and arrangements for disposition of the body were made to pay tribute to the deceased. There was mainly a burial made with dignity, the body was wrapped in a shroud or not, put in a coffin or directly in the ground.
The shroud in the Jewish custom of the 1st century was a piece of plain linen, bound with three fine strips (one at the feet, one at the level of the hands and one at the neck).
The face was covered with the shroud, the sudarium, a small piece of linen cloth serving to wipe the sweat of the face.
The burial sites depended on the social status of the dead: in churches in France until the 18th century, in cemeteries, in a family vault or in dedicated buildings and monuments.

Other cultures, in Asia, practised the exposure of the human remains to the vultures to respect the natural sacred elements for them. Others prefered the rite of cremation and dispersal of ashes returned to Nature.
The Amerindians of North America exposed the bodies to the natural elements also to help the dead return to Nature.

I quote an article interesting that you can look for:
Jean-Pierre Albert. The funeral rites. Anthropological approaches. The exercise books of the faculty of theology, 1999, pp.141-152. 〈halshs-00371703

"This brief study is an educational synthesis on the anthropological (and secondarily psychological) interpretations of funeral rites. Certain practices (as the double burial) are compared with the representations of the deaths shared by very diverse cultures".

May these thoughts and studies on the fears of our ancestors reconcile us with our concerns on the death, the forgotten death, the hidden death in our modern societies.

In support of the current scientific researches, we can learn not to be afraid of death, to love life until the last breath, to read again the Letter to Menoeceus by Epicurus, but I will not get into the multidisciplinary field of the NBIC (Nanotechnology, Biology and medicine, Information sciences, and Cognitive Sciences)

"Accustom yourself to believe that death is nothing to us, for good and evil imply awareness, and death is the privation of all awareness; therefore a right understanding that death is nothing to us makes the mortality of life enjoyable, not by adding to life an unlimited time, but by taking away the yearning after immortality.
For life has no terror; for those who thoroughly apprehend that there are no terrors for them in ceasing to live.
Foolish, therefore, is the person who says that he fears death, not because it will pain when it comes, but because it pains in the prospect.
Whatever causes no annoyance when it is present, causes only a groundless pain in the expectation.
Death, therefore, the most awful of evils, is nothing to us, seeing that, when we are, death is not come, and, when death is come, we are not.
It is nothing, then, either to the living or to the dead, for with the living it is not and the dead exist no longer. But in the world, at one time people shun death as the greatest of all evils, and at another time choose it as a respite from the evils in life. "(translated by Robert Drew Hicks)