Archaeological evidence suggests that cremation began around 3000 BC in areas of the Middle East and Europe, later spreading across northern Europe. The Greeks adopted the practice, and during the time of the Roman Empire, it was widely practiced as one of the preferred methods of burial. By the 4th century AD, Constantine, the Roman Emperor, converted to Christianity, and burial replaced cremation throughout much of the Empire.
Modern cremation began in the 19th century. Medical professionals, concerned with hazardous health conditions, founded the Cremation Society of England. Crematories were built in England and Europe. In North America, the first American crematory operated in 1876 in Washington, Pennsylvania.
The body is enclosed in a rigid, combustible and inexpensive, container. Mortuaries are required, under the Federal Trade Commission Rule of 1984, to provide such a container, since it is destroyed in the cremation process. In most states, the family may provide the container. Any mechanical devices and implants, such as pacemakers, are removed before the cremation takes place.
The process itself subjects the body and container to intense heat and flame, upward to 2000 degrees Fahrenheit, which evaporates and vaporizes the remains. The skeletal remains, or bone fragments, and other particles not destroyed, are ground into a consistent granular form. Evaporation and cooling is a process that takes about 5 hours. The weight of the cremated remains range between 4 to 8 pounds (1.8 to 3.6 kg).
After cremation, the cremated remains are placed in an inexpensive container. The funeral home is notified after the process is complete, or the family, depending on the arrangements made. The cremated remains may be kept in the family home, placed in a columbarium or grave, (2 or 3 urns may be placed in a grave), or scattered in the place of choice.
Cremations as percentage of deaths are rising rapidly. In 1998, 553,000 Americans were cremated. The U.S. national rate is 26%. Canada’s cremation rate is 45%. In England and Japan, it is 90%. These rates will continue to increase for a number of reasons: Economic - the direct and indirect costs associated with cremation are much lower than burial. Environmental – less land, if any depending on deposition, is used. Sanitary considerations - in-ground burial can contaminate water supplies for entire communities. There is more flexibility to the deposition of the cremated remains compared to a casket burial. For these reasons, cremation has become an acceptable, and for many, preferable form of deposition.