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How Did a Funeral Originate?

People have wanted to care for their deceased since the dawn of civilisation. It is a long-held belief by many that the deceased will pass into an afterlife, and that their loved one’s bodies should be prepared accordingly. This led to what we now call funerals, which derives from the Latin ‘funus’ which means funeral rites.

Funerals are an ancient human practice, with known examples stretching back 27,000 years. Of course, funerals have changed a great deal from then until now and today’s services will look very different from those in ancient times. We have even found that our closest relatives, Neanderthals, also likely had some sort of belief in the afterlife. Of course, the Neanderthals died out, leaving Homo Sapiens the only remaining human species on earth known to bury its dead.

Many cultures took to burying their dead underground, allowing their body to release its nutrients into the ground. Others took to cremating bodies, with many believing the spirit is taken skyward by the smoke. Some cultures even left bodies exposed to the elements, where they would feed the nearby flora and fauna.

Some cultures used communal gravesites, and some powerful people of the past were buried alongside pets or even relatives that were slain to accompany the deceased. In the 1770s, Paris started moving remains from overcrowded cemeteries into an underground ossuary. This vast underground network is believed to contain the remains of approximately 6 million people in what is now known as the catacombs of Paris.

Funeral Processions

While the method of disposing of the body varies, funerals usually have something in common, which is they all typically involve some type of service. For example, many of today’s Western funerals will involve a service involving the coffin, with close family members given the opportunity to speak. People will come together whether it’s a burial or a cemetery, and an informal gathering is often held after the funeral itself.

Our early ancestors would also have held funeral possessions, often with the deceased being buried alongside their favoured possessions. In some cases, magnificent monuments were built for the deceased to be buried in, such as the famous pyramids in Egypt. Many excavation sites around the world reveal evidence of funeral ceremonies long before modern civilisation began.

Regardless of religious beliefs, funerals give an opportunity for the living to say their goodbyes to the departed. Funerals make an important part of the grieving process, helping to provide closure that helps those mourning to let go. And as the world gradually becomes less religious, so more people are asking for funerals without religious links.

Regardless, religion is still often heavily involved in today’s funerals, with ceremonies often held by a religious representative and within a religious building such as a church. Today’s heads of state will also likely be given a religious funeral, often using grand buildings like Cathedrals and Mosques.

Funeral Directors

There was a time when people were expected to care for their own dead, organizing ceremonies and the burial/cremation. However, as our civilization developed, it became impractical for people to organize everything themselves. Other factors such as hygiene also became an issue, while local authorities started requesting that all deaths are formerly processed.

As the funeral process become more organized, it also meant more work for people making the arrangements. As such, professional funeral directors went into business helping people organize a funeral for their loved ones.

Modern funerals can involve a lot of paperwork and other arrangements which can be overwhelming, especially considering the nature of the occasion. A funeral directors will handle the paperwork and other tasks for you, and their experience with funerals will help ensure everything goes according to plan. A funeral director will also be able to make recommendations to help the day go smoothly and ensure your loved one has a dignified service.

Future Funerals

Funeral services will likely continue to evolve, and those in 500 years might look very different from todays. As mentioned, fewer people hold religious beliefs than before which will likely have an effect on how future funerals develop.

Some alternatives may also give a glimpse into what funerals of the future might entail. For example, more people are asking to be buried ‘organically’, in such a way that their nutrients enrich the earth around them (caskets and coffin liners tend to slow the process). Some people even ask to be buried in a pod with a tree sapling, which can go on to grow strong thanks to nutrients supplied by the deceased’s remains.

No matter how society changes in the future, we can be confident that humans will continue holding funerals for many generations to come. After all, we will always want an opportunity to say goodbye to those we loved.


Humans have been holding funerals to remember their loved ones for millennia. While rituals today will look quite different from those in ancient times, they still all revolve around a service commemorating the departed. Funerals are also likely to evolve in the future as our societies change.

Regardless of which type of funeral you’re looking for, it’s best to get in touch with the professionals. The team at Family Funerals will be happy to help, so get in touch and we can help make this difficult process go as smoothly as possible. We look forward to hearing from you and helping to give your loved one the dignified service they deserve.