Memorials & Monuments
History of Grave Markers
The most imposing of all tombs are the
pyramids of Egypt. The Egyptians also cut
rock tombs in the sides of cliffs near Thebes.
(See: Ancient Egypt)
Other famous tombs are those at Petra, the
ancient rock city in what is now Jordan. The hills here are honeycombed with
tombs cut into rock.
Many large tombs were built in ancient Asia Minor. The most notable was that of
King Mausolos, from whose name came the word “mausoleum”.
In ancient Greece and Rome roads outside cities were lined with tombs, some
beautifully ornamented. The Romans developed a circular tower tomb, a famous
example being that of Emperor Hadrian in Rome.
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A tomb, especially one that is large or elaborate. The name is derived from the
marble tomb built for the Carian ruler Mausolus at Halicarnassus, Asia Minor (now
Bodrum, Turkey). Begun before Mausolus’ death in 353 B.C., construction of the
Mausoleum was continued by his wife, Artemisia, but was not completed until after
her death. It ranked as one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World.
The Mausoleum’s height has been calculated at about 140’ (43m). Its massive
rectangular base was surmounted by a colonmade of 36 Ionic columns. Above was a
pyramid-shaped roof. At the apex were colossal figures of Mausolus and Artemisia in
a four-horse chariot. In the 19th century, excavations were made at the site of
Halicarnassus. Fragments of three friezes and other sculpture, including a statue of
Mausolus, were taken to the British Museum.
The stele (plural stelae), as they are called in an archaeological context, is one of the
oldest forms of funerary art. Originally, a tombstone was the stone lid of a stone
coffin, or the coffin itself, and a gravestone was the stone slab that was laid over a
grave. Now all three terms are also used for markers placed at the head of the grave.
Originally graves in the 1700s also contained footstones to demarcate the foot end of
the grave. Footstones were rarely carved with more than the deceased's initials and
year of death, and many cemeteries and churchyards have removed them to make
cutting the grass easier. Note however that in many UK cemeteries the principal, and
indeed only, marker is placed at the foot of the grave.
Graves and any related memorials are a focus for mourning and remembrance. Often
the names of loved one’s are placed on the marker to chronicle their deaths. Since
gravestones and a plot in a cemetery or churchyard cost money, they are also a
symbol of wealth or prominence in a community. Some gravestones were even
commissioned and erected to their own memory by people who were still living, as a
testament to their wealth and status. In a Christian context, the very wealthy often
erected elaborate memorials within churches rather than having simply external
Crematoria frequently offer carved or cast commemorative plaques inside the
crematorium for families who do not have a grave to mark, but still want a focus for
their mourning and for remembrance.
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|History of Grave Marker Types|
Since the beginning of civilized society, memorialization has helped to satisfy the
human desire, to remember those who have passed on, and to be remembered by
those who remain.
Many primitive people built barrow (mounds) of earth, rock, or timber for the dead.
In North America some Indian tribes, called
mound builders, built large
mounds, some of which were places of
burial and monuments to the dead.
(See: Mound Builders)
The sarcophagus of Alexander the Great,
located in Alexandria, Egypt, imitates temple
architecture in its carvings and painting.
One of the most beautiful tombs in the world is the Taj
Mahal in Agra, India. (See: Famous Monuments)
The early Christians buried their dead in
underground catacombs at Rome and elsewhere.
In later times, many prominent persons were
buried in churches. Westminster Abbey has
the remains of British monarchs and many
distinguished persons. About 3,300 people are
interred at the abbey.
A magnificent sarcophagus of modern times is that
of Napoleon I in Paris.
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