Which Dynasty Invented Urns?

Cremation is certainly one of the most popular forms of final disposition today, but it has always been a controversial choice throughout history. Before the start of organized religions, cremation was widely practiced throughout Europe and the Near East. However, the invention of urns is still shrouded in mystery. Which dynasty can lay claim to this invention? And what are urns, exactly?

What Is an Urn?

At their simplest, urns are receptacles for holding the ashes of lost loved ones, either human or animal. Urns can be highly decorative or simple and elegant. Some urns are designed to be displayed on a shelf at home, while others are intended for cemetery burial. There are a plethora of options when choosing urns in the modern day, but where did these containers get their start?

Who Invented the Urn?

During the Neolithic age, there was a settlement in the central plain of ancient China called Jiahu. Jiahu is one of the earliest sites where ceremonial burials have been discovered. Urn burials of this kind date back to about 7,000 B.C. and were often accompanied by ceremonial objects, such as pottery or tortoise shells.

Burial offerings such as those found at Jiahu are believed to be linked to the individual’s social status or the community’s labor specialization. Therefore in ancient China, your job specialization might have dictated which memorial objects might have been included with your burial. Most gravesites were earthen pits, in which infants were buried in jars. By 5,000 B.C., people of the Yanshao culture along the Yellow River in China made funerary urns with elaborate paints and designs.

By the Bronze Age, evidence shows that the Celts of what is now Great Britain and the Iberian Peninsula performed cremation as a ritual. Archaeologists also found decorative ancient burial urns in western Russia among Slavic regions. For example, urns were discovered in Pomerania, a region on the southern shore of the Baltic Sea. These urns were shaped like vases, with brass bellies and slender necks. In the upper part of these urns, the indigenous people carved lifelike imageries to recreate the deceased's eyes, ears, or mouths. They even incorporated the textures of fabrics or tattoos.

Ancient burial urns were also recently discovered at an Iron Age burial site in a southern area of India. Researchers found pots with leaf-like decorations and a series of motifs that included animals and humans in Adichanallur, Tamil Nadu, which are similar to the prehistoric cave paintings found in the Erode and Dharmapuri districts of Tamil Nadu. Funerary urns of the Mycenaean Age were more decorative and functional than ever before because ancient Greeks sought to design pottery that was as beautiful as it was purposeful.

Maracá funerary urns of the indigenous Amazonian tribes in South America were discovered as recently as the 19th century. On one of the discovered urns, white and blue glass beads were glued with resin to the back and around the arm, forming a sort of bracelet. The glass beads suggested contact between the Amerindians and the first Europeans to enter the region. These urns are anthropomorphic in nature and too small to hold skeletal remains.

Until archaeologists and researchers unearth further evidence, we can safely say that the earliest ancient burial urns known to man originate from the Neolithic period. Experts have also found pottery that dates to 29,000 to 25,000 B.C., but we can’t be sure how that pottery was used until further evidence provides more insight. To learn more about the historical timeline of urns and cremation practices, read our blog: Cremation, Urns, and Keepsakes – a History.

A Modern Take on Ancient Burial Urns

OneWorld Memorials offers a wide selection of beautiful urns made from timeless materials. Consider one of our Italian marble cremation urns for a memorial that will last for many years to come. Stone or marble urns are an everlasting treasure and are available in a variety of materials, colors and sizes. Custom engraving is available for many of our urns, as well as personalizable accessories such as urn pedestals and pendants.

Many of our urns evoke the timeless silhouette of ancient burial urns and you’ll find a wide variety of classic urns in our collection of elegant ceramic urns. These urns are one of our most popular categories, and it isn’t hard to see why. For a luxurious handcrafted urn from China, consider an Azure Blue Ceramic Urn, available in multiple sizes. Look no further than our Blue Bird Ceramic Temple Cremation Urn, elegantly crafted from fine porcelain for a classic blue and white ceramic style.

Whichever urn you choose, we hope you find something perfect to honor your lost loved ones at OneWorld Memorials. Please contact OneWorld Memorials if you have any questions or concerns about this article.

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