Since the dawn of time, human beings have been obsessed with death, dying, and our ultimate fate in this mortal coil that we know will be our destiny. We know we’re going to die, and that sets the stage for some deep, existential questions about the meaning of life. One of the outgrowths of this is our morbid fascination with death. It is because of this that we’ve been practicing funerary rites and death parades since time immemorial. The Danse Macabre, French for “Dance of Death,” is an artistic and literary movement that celebrated the universality of death.
Emerging as the Black Death ravaged Europe, it influenced plenty of art and culture that came after it, from classical ensembles to the modern-day New Orleans jazz funerals. From Willie Stokes Jr., a man who had a casket made to look like a Cadillac, complete with blinking headlights, to more common things like cremation, humans have been extremely inventive when it comes to how they’re going to pay their respects to the dead.
10. Prehistoric Burials
Before we get around to the caskets, rituals, dances, and mortuaries we’re familiar with today, we need to look at the practice of burying the dead throughout human history. Humans have been doing so in elaborate ways for a very, very long time, with the first burials that we know about dating as far back as 100,000 years ago.Qafzeh Cave in Israel is one of the oldest burial sites we’ve found, dating back to the Middle Paleolithic period of human history.
Featuring the bodies of at least 27 Paleolithic individuals as well as several animals dating from different periods, this grave site was unmistakably intentional because of one prominent feature: decorations. The decorations of the skulls and other body parts were done with red ocher, and other instruments of decor were observed at the site. Two of the skeletons are almost entirely intact. The skulls had been painted with red ocher, which was most probably done as part of a religious funeral rite of some sort.
9. Tomb Of The Mutilated
These rudimentary and archaic grave designs set the stage for what would become the modern caskets of all types we find around the world today. The bodies found at the Qafzeh Cave burial site also had some other unmistakable features, most notably that all of them seemed to be the victims of violence of some sort. The Paleolithic was a rough time, between intertribal violence, familial rivalries, and the difficulty in securing food without being killed by an angry wild animal, and they seemed to have taken the funeral rites (which happened often) very seriously. Shells were found, along with a set of deer antlers, snail shells, and other such objects which were obviously used to decorate this mass grave.This set the stage for another invention that would come many, many years later: the tomb.
While the mass graves of prehistory were definitely decorated, they were just the basic forerunners to what would be the tomb, which is an actual structure built around the bodies, typically of families or other tight bands of people. A tomb is a built or excavated encasement, which separates it from mass graves.One of the oldest-known tombs comes from the Neolithic period, about 6,000 years ago, and was discovered in modern-day Spain.
Experiments and DNA analyses of this site have uncovered that these bodies are of families, and they were buried together. It’s safe to say that funeral arrangements were a responsibility of the close family for a very long time, and those family members wanted to make more lavish structures to honor their dead.