The Evolution of Funerals

The History of Funerals and Funeral Customs

The earliest funeral services known to man were performed by the Ancient Egyptians. These services were extremely elaborate even by today’s standards. The Egyptians performed embalming that took upwards of 70 days to complete, mummifications, and in some special circumstances live people would choose to be encased with their deceased loved ones for all eternity; eventually succumbing to suffocation and/or starvation in the tombs. Modern funeral services do still serve the same purpose of allowing loved ones to grieve, but have streamlined the process with advanced technology and well equipped facilities to complete the whole process within mere hours.

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Ancient funeral services were driven primarily by both fear and respect. There were several types of funerals as well as different types of body treatments that were utilized in ancient times. The rich could expect a far more elaborate funeral service with a longer more thorough embalming; while the less fortunate would be handled in the same fashion however the process and amount of chemicals used to preserve their bodies were normally not nearly as substantial as their wealthy counter parts.

The primary function of a funeral in ancient times was to preserve the deceased persons physical appearance for long enough that the person could cross-over to the land of the dead and easily recognize their own body and be reunited with it. Death was treated as just another step in life but was not by any means regarded as ‘the end of life’. Ancient Egyptians believed strongly in the afterlife and in eternal life, which is why they insisted on preserving the physical being for as long as possible. More often than not loved ones would be buried in tombs that contained everything they owned and used in their daily lives. These practices stemmed from the belief that after death they would be reunited with their body and continue living their previous life in the land of the dead.

It was not uncommon to bury a loved one with food, and ample money, as well as extra clothing and grooming supplies. With the extremely wealthy, including Pharaohs and Queens it was not uncommon for one or more of the family’s servants to accompany the deceased into the tomb as if to continue service to the family in death. This type of ritual self sacrifice did not occur with any other class of person as it was reserved only for royalty.

In modern times the funeral process has been accelerated dramatically. It no longer takes five to 70 days to cleanse and embalm the deceased; instead this process can be completed in four to 10 hours depending on the case and circumstances surrounding the passing. Although the grief and loss that a family feels today is not less than the families of the Egyptians, our funeral services have become much less dramatic. The average funeral service will last only four to seven days from the time of death to the time of burial or cremation. This estimate includes the time a person might spend in hospital after their passing, and with the medical examiner, as well as with the embalmer. The reduction in time required to perform the tasks associated with someone passing away is not indicative of the amount of care put into the service. Today Medical Examiners and Funeral Directors have sophisticated machines and tools to assist in achieving a quality diagnosis and embalming in a drastically shorter time.

Presently, it is still common to see a loved one buried with some of their favorite things including but not limited to jewelry, musical instruments, cigarettes or alcohol or almost any other things that their loved ones can fit into the casket. This practice does not occur due to a specific religious belief or requirement anymore; but is rather a point of preference for each family. Some choose to include items that the deceased might have enjoyed in life while other families choose to send off their loved ones with nothing more than their clothes. Ritual self sacrifice is something that is entirely unheard of in modern times and would likely land an individual in prison for attempting something of that nature. There are new rules and regulations that limit what a person can be buried with and how the body must be treated before it can be buried or cremated. Your local Funeral Director will be best suited to assist you in determining what can be buried with your loved ones according the latest rules in your state or country.