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Funeral rites are as old as the human race itself. Every culture and civilization has attended to the proper care of their dead. Every human culture ever studied has three common threads for death and the disposition of their dead:
1) Some type of ceremony, funeral rite, or ritual
2) A sacred place for the dead
3) Memorials for the dead
The excavated area produced nine skeletons of Neanderthals of varying ages and states of preservation and completeness (labelled Shanidar I - IX, or Shanidar 1 - 9). The tenth individual was recently discovered by M. Zeder during examination of a faunal assemblage from the site at the Smithsonian Institution. The remains seemed to Zeder to suggest that Neandertals had funeral ceremonies, burying their dead with flowers, and that they took care of injured individuals. One skeleton and casts of the others at the Smithsonian Institution are all that is left of the findings, the originals having been dispersed in Iraq.
Beliefs about the transition from the mortal world to eternal life were recorded throughout the more than three thousand years of ancient Egypt's history, though new ideas were incorporated from time to time. Most important for full participation in the afterlife was the need for an individual's identity to be preserved. Consequently, the body had to remain intact and receive regular offerings of food and drink.
The final step in the transition to the afterlife was the judgment in the Hall of Maat (the god of justice) by Horus (the god of the sky) and Thoth (scribe of the dead) by comparing ab (the conscience) and a feather. The ritual was known as the Weighing of the Heart. Heavy hearts were swallowed by a creature with a crocodile head who was called the Devourer of Souls. The good people were led to the Happy Fields, where they joined Osiris, god of the underworld. Many spells and rituals were designed to ensure a favorable judgment and were written in the papyrus or linen "Book of the Dead."
All ancient Egyptians believed in the afterlife and spent their lives preparing for it. Pharaohs built the finest tombs, collected the most elaborate funerary equipment, and were mummified in the most expensive way. Others were able to provide for their afterlives according to their earthly means. Regardless of their wealth, however, they all expected the afterlife to be an idealized version of their earthly existence.
To find catacombs, go to Rome, home of some of the oldest and longest burial underground tunnels in the world. "Hundreds of kilometers of catacombs run underneath the town and its outskirts," says Adriano Morabito, president of the association Roma Sotterranea (Underground Rome). "Some of the networks are well known and open to visitors, while others are still scarcely explored. Probably there are a number of lost catacombs, too."
The oldest tunnels date back to the first century. "The Jewish community in Rome built them as cemeteries. Christian catacombs came a century later. They were not secret meeting places to survive persecutions, as historians thought in the past, but burial tunnels, like the Jewish ones," Morabito explains. "They used to grow larger and larger around the tombs of saints because people asked to be buried near their religious leaders."
Even though the public was familiar with embalming, [soldiers being sent home embalmed and President Lincoln and other notables having been embalmed], the general public did not take to this new invasion of the body. There were many bodies embalmed after the Civil War, but it was not until the beginning of the Twentieth Century that embalming became an accepted practice. It was at first performed in the home by the undertaker. By the early to mid 1920s the funeral home as we know it was beginning to emerge.