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History of gravestones

Posted by AK Lander | On August 24, 2015 14:53



People say that things go in and out of fashion, but gravestones have long been a traditional way to serve as memorials to our loved ones.

Memorials and gravestones now come in all shapes and sizes that are decorated in a variety of religious symbols or other decorative designs, but the purpose has remained the same.

Here we take a look at the history of gravestones, discuss what the first gravestones were and how gravestones have changed from their early beginnings.

The first gravestones

Gravestones, or grave markers as they were more commonly known, are believed to date back as far as 3,000 B.C. to the Roman and Celtic cultures.

The markers were megalithic monuments and unlike today were used to mark an entire burial chamber rather than a single grave.

In earlier times cemeteries did not exist and people instead had burial plots near their homes where all their family members would be buried together.

Although the first gravestone has not been confirmed, the Mail Online reported back in 2013 that scientists found the first evidence of floral tributes on graves was found at a 13,700-year-old prehistoric burial site in Israel.

Churchyard burials evolve

According to an article on the International Southern Cemetery Gravestones Association, once churchyard burials began to become popular in the 1650s, gravestones began to become more widespread.

Tombstones and monuments made from slate or sandstone were put up to commemorate the deceased and from this point inscriptions were carved on the slate.

The beginning of inscriptions


In the 19th century the importance of gravestones to honour the dead increased and this is where inscriptions began to become more widespread.

Gravestones now started to include a few words about the deceased by loved ones or friends. Information included details about date of birth, date of death and the name of the deceased.

During the Victorian era, which is 1837-1901, more elaborate monuments and gravestones began to appear and popular materials included marble, wood, iron and granite.

Gravestones for all classes

During the Victorian era poorer people began to commemorate the dead with memorials and gone were the days where only the upper class could afford to commemorate the deceased.

The creation of war memorials

Today people can travel to countries such as France to see the beautiful war memorials that mark the lives of all the brave soldiers that sadly lost their lives, but when did war memorials begin to appear?

In Glasgow and Salford there are monuments that remember the Crimean War, which dates back to 1853-1856. The take-off point for war memorials, however, began following the Boer War in 1899-1902.

After the Boer War, statues and monuments were erected to celebrate the lives of soldiers from districts who were killed during the bloody battle.

This has since led to war memorials being created for the First World War, Second World War and other wars since.

Memorials have become more extravagant

Since the beginning of the humble gravestones, where a number of stones were used to show where a deceased person lies to rest, modern gravestones have developed to include the likes of memorial vases, plaques and kerbed memorials.


Monuments remembering large-scale tragedies have also developed, with the World Trade Center Memorial in New York a stunning example that was built to remember the casualties from 9/11.

Image Credit: Pavels Hotulevs (Shutterstock)