The History of Cremation Urns

Over many millennia, factors such as religion, health requirements and social views have influenced the practice of cremations. The use of urns and the cremation of people who have passed away dates back thousands of years. Archaeologists predict that cremation was practised during The Stone Age around the year 3000 B.C. 

How old is the practice of cremation?

The earliest evidence of the use of urns to store cremation ashes was located in Jiahu, China. Pottery urns were unearthed on this site and were dated back to 7000 B.C.

Archaeological evidence shows that the cremation practice spread during the bronze age to the Celts in Britain and to the Iberian Peninsula. The first cemeteries dedicated to cremations were also built during the bronze age period in Northern Italy and Hungary. 

The practice of cremations was popular during the Mycenaean age (around 1000 B.C. - 800 B.C. ) among the Greeks. During this trend, many burials were performed using urns that held the ashes of their relatives.

During the period of the Roman empire (600 BC to 600 AD, cremations were commonly used for honoured members of society. The ashes were placed in simple urns which were kept in buildings resembling modern-day columbariums. The practise of cremation became less popular with the rise of early Christianity during the later Roman era. Burials became less popular as Christians discouraged the practice of cremation as it was considered against their faith.

When did urns become popular?

The practice of cremations and the use of urns regained popularity in Europe in the late 19th century. An Italian painter named Brunetti developed a design of cremation urns at the 1873 Vienna World Fair. In England, Sir Henry Thompson (Queen Victoria's physician) began to promote cremation.

The surgeon founded the Cremation Society of England in 1874. This gave rise to the formation of crematories in the town of Woking, England and Gotha, Germany. 

Cremation and the use of urns gained popularity in North America during the same years. The first crematory was built in Washington, Pennsylvania by Dr Julius LeMoyne. In 1884 another crematory was established in Lancaster, Pennsylvania.

The influences behind these crematories included the protestant clergy who wanted to reform the burial practices in North America. Other influences included medical professionals who were concerned regarding the health conditions around the early cemeteries.

There were around 52 crematories in North America by the year 1913 as more crematories were established across the United States. As these crematories were built the demand for cremation urns increased. In 1913 Dr Hugo Erichsen organised the growing number of crematories under the Cremation Association of North America.

How popular is modern cremation?

The practice of cremations in the UK is more popular today than burials and its popularity is growing in the United States and Europe. The cremation rate in the UK has steadily increased from a national average of 34.7% in the year 1960 to 77.05% in 2017. 

A factor influencing the increase in cremations in Singapore, Netherlands and many countries is the lack of land availability. High population density and growing land costs have meant that cremations are lower in cost when compared to burials and funerals.

With the increase in popularity of cremations today, the demand for suitable urns has risen. Many people want a specific urn that will commemorate the life of their loved ones. Some may choose urns with a religious design if their loved one was a member of a faith or believed in god.

Others may choose a more artfully designed urn as it is more appealing to them. As shown by our Helix Cremation Urn for Ashes below.


Image of the helix cremation urn


Some people choose to buy biodegradable urns, which can be used to safely disperse their loved one's ashes in the ground or at sea. Some of the biodegradable urns which we have in our store can be planted with a seed, which can then grow a tree.

Many religions that were against cremation have now accepted it as a tradition. Cremations can allow families to bury the cremation urn in an urn garden which can be found in many cemeteries and graveyards. Families can also place a cremation urn in a columbarium which is a wall that holds urns and can be found in most cemeteries and funeral homes.

A growing number of people are keeping a small portion of their loved one’s ashes in keepsake urns (which are smaller versions of normal-sized urns) and in Memorial Ashes Jewellery to keep their loved ones close to them wherever they go.

If you have any further questions or queries please visit our other articles which are linked below:

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