Cremation has a very rich history. In fact, early evidence of cremation practices has been found in Australia dating back some 42,000 years. It was the partially cremated remains of the Mungo Lady discovered by paleontologist Jim Bowler in 1968 that helped bring to light the earliest beginnings of cremation among ancient human populations. We now invite you to join us in a deeper exploration of cremation history.
Michele Kim, in the online article "How Cremation Works", affirms that the practice of cremation has been a part of many cultures and societies around the world. It can be found in China, Northern Europe, Latin America, North America, and Africa. However, cremation has not always been a welcomed practice.
Take the example of China. "There is evidence", writes Ms. Kim, "that people cremated bodies in China as early as 8000 B.C." And now, because of governmental legislation, the practice of cremation in China is only going to grow. In the April, 2014 Pangea Today online article, "China to Mandate and Regulate Cremation of All Dead People" (reprinted from the Beijing Times), "In order to solve China’s problem of limited burial space in cemeteries, the Chinese government is mandating that everyone who dies to be cremated. Officials have set a goal of 100% cremations by 2020." There has been strong reaction against this official mandate for cremation. (Consider the online article from The Guardian, "Six Elderly People in China Kill Themselves before Burial Ban".)
Resistance to cremation is also an issue in South Africa. In the 2005 scholarly paper, "Cremation a Problem to African People," Maake J.S. Masango, of the University of Pretoria, traces the reasons Africans and Afrikaners have more objections to cremation than English-speaking South Africans that date back to the thirteenth century. "In the seventies there were no pressing issues that compelled us to follow (cremation) practice. Today, we are faced with graveyards that are full, and we need to do something." He goes on to say that "the South African government is seriously considering cremation as the way of burial" but "the people are not ready to face cremation."
Faith and socio-economic forces are strong motivators for or against the practice of cremation. Consider Sweden, where during the Iron Age (500 B.C.E.-1100 A.D,) and Viking Age (800 BCE-1521 A.D.), almost all deaths involved cremation. This practice slowly fell out of favor when Christianity was introduced in 1050 A.D.. Cremation all but disappeared with the continued and growing influence of Christianity in Europe except during the periods when major epidemics and warfare. In these newly-Christian countries, cremation became objectionable due to the fundamentalist belief in the physical resurrection of the body. It was because of this perspective that Charlemagne, who wore many crowns during his lifetime, considered cremation to be a crime punishable by death.
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