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Mass graves marked by individual crosses

Just as much as man has evolved from the time of the nomads, his practices and rituals have grown more and more sophisticated. With time, things that once were just formalities have acquired ritual significance and are observed in solemnity. Death was once something that marked the end, but now is an important life change event that is memorialized. Some people come alive only after death.

In nomadic times, men buried their dead companions or family along the route they traveled. They would place a stone or any heavy object over it, to prevent the soil from becoming loose around the body, or to keep it safe from scavengers. This practice is no longer followed as the animal kingdom and man's world have become distinct from each other.


Europe is dotted with Stonehenge clusters, which are historical pieces of evidence of human progress. It is a keen and detailed system that human ancestors devised for burying their dead. Carbon dating suggests the presence of decomposed remains, but its actual significance is speculated.

The Egyptians devised building pyramids in which they laid their dead. They are one of the earliest civilizations to propagate the idea of an afterlife. They filled the pyramids with earthly treasures, all of which they believed were required in the next life.

Today's practice of laying gravestones has no preventive measures like those in the past. Traditional orthodox graves with elaborate gravestones Image credit: Photo by Robert Linder on Unsplash


When devastating plagues hit countries, the dead were buried in masses. Walls were built around these sites to contain the dead bodies and to prevent them from spilling out. Later superstitions and folklore about the 'undead' forced people to place crosses and crucifixes on graves to keep their loved ones from turning into blood-sucking vampires. Sometimes, coffins were pierced in the centre with a large stake to prevent the deceased from waking up again. Gravestones were laid to make sure that the person did not escape. Sometimes, an intact gravestone was an indicator of a pure soul.

The Renaissance instilled a scientific spirit of inquiry, which caused brilliant advancements in every field, but this came at rather bizarre costs. Students of human anatomy needed a basis for their theories and were often found vandalizing property, digging up the dead to use for dissection. Laws were passed against this, but it was a practice that prevailed. Some of the most famous principles of medicine come from this era.

Burying the dead has changed so much with the times. Today's practice of laying gravestones has no preventive measures like those in the past. Instead, they serve to immortalize the dead. It is to fulfill the life of the person by laying them to rest in their final earthly abode and leaving behind a marker of their life either by a symbol, a quote, or a verse that best describes them. As the population of the world continues to grow, land space for burial is growing scarce, and gravestones are now becoming a rare privilege.


Keywords: Ritual Practice, Graves, Memorial tombs, plague disease, white plague


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