A Timeline for Taphophiles


Ancient Times and Early Christianity
50,000 B.C.
  • Neanderthals bury their dead with flowers.
30,000 B.C.
  • Chinese use coffins to bury their dead.
8000 B.C.
  • Palestinians bury their dead in tombs similar to the round pit houses in which most people live.
7000 B.C.
  • Residents of Jericho inter nine plastered-over skulls beneath their floors. In the 1950s, archaeologists discover these near some forty headless bodies.
6000 B.C.
  • Residents of Lepenski Vir, Yugoslavia, expose their dead before depositing them in holes near their settlements.
4000 B.C.
  • Megalithic tombs in use in the British Isles.
  • Sumerians use baskets made of plaited twigs for coffins.
3200 B.C.
  • Egyptians develop embalming for religious purposes.
3000 B.C.
  • Ancient Chileans mummify bodies.
2980 B.C.
  • Imhotep's step pyramid at Zozer becomes the world's first large stone monument.
2920 B.C.
  • Snefru memorializes himself with two pyramids at Dahshur.
2900 B.C.
  • Cheops erects the Great Pyramid at Giza.
2850 B.C.
  • Khafra erects a second pyramid at Giza.
2800 B.C.
  • Menkure erects a third pyramid at Giza.
2200 B.C.
  • The members of the Third Royal Dynasty of Ur arrange to have their remains accompanied by their personal attendants, who are slain either by having their throats cut or poisoned.
2000 B.C.
  • Sudanese princes begin the practice of burying princely retainers alive.
1550 B.C.
  • The first of the Mycenaean shaft-graves is sunk. When Heinrich Schliemann uncovers a gold mask in one of these, he wires to his sponsors "I have looked upon the face of Agamemnon!"
1500 B.C.
  • Navetas (tombs shaped like upturned boats) appear in Spain's Balearic Islands.
1343 B.C.
  • Tutankhamen dies. He is embalmed and buried. Soon afterwards, tomb robbers remove most of the portable valuables.
1172 B.C.
  • Ramses II begins work on the great mortuary temple at Thebes.
1160 B.C.
  • Ramses V dies. His mummified remains carry evidence of smallpox.
800 B.C.
  • Villanovans (Italy) inter cremated remains in urns shaped like huts.
650 B.C.
  • The age of embalming ends in Egypt.
625 B.C.
  • Greeks introduce metal coins, which mourners begin to place
    under the tongues of the dead to pay Charon's tolls.
490 B.C.
  • The Greek heroes of Marathon are buried in a mass grave. The
    Persian invaders are left to rot on the battlefield.
430 B.C.
  • As a mysterious plague ravages Athenian-held Piraeus, the Spartans
    make a practice of executing prisoners to avoid the spread of infection.
429 B.C.
  • Hippocrates the Great uses dissection and vivisection of animals
    to develop his principles of human medicine.
399 B.C.
  • Socrates chooses hemlock over exile.
354 B.C.
  • King Mausolus of Caria is entombed in the first Mausoleum.
336 B.C.
  • Phillip of Macedon is assassinated and buried at Vergina where his
    cremated remains are discovered in the late 1970s.
275 B.C.
  • Herophilus uses autopsies to teach anatomy and pathology in
    Alexandria, Egypt.
167 B.C.
  • Litsang, wife of the Marquis of Tai, Chancellor of Hunan province
    dies. When she is unearthed in the early 1970s, her body is nearly
    perfectly preserved.
87 B.C.
  • Ssu-ma Ch-'ien, the father of Chinese historiography dies. He has noted that "In the area south of the Yangtse the land is low and the climate humid; adult males die young."
44 B.C.
  • Roman pathologist Antistius performs an autopsy on the
    body of Julius Caesar.
12 B.C.
  • Roman tribune and praetor Caius Cestius dies. His pyramid tomb becomes the centerpiece of Rome's Protestant Cemetery 17 centuries later. Medieval tourists mistake it for the Tomb of Romulus.
30
  • Roman physician Aulus Cornelius Celsus advocates dissection as
    a necessary element in a doctor's training.
33
  • According to Christian scripture, Jesus is crucified and rises three
    days after his death.
79
  • The eruption of Mount Vesuvius results in the entombment of
    thousands of citizens of Herculaneum and Pompeii.
80
  • The opening of the Roman Colosseum is celebrated by the sacrifice
    of many animals and men in gladitorial combats.
125
  • A plague decimates the Roman Empire, forcing the abandonment of
    many towns and villages.
139
  • Mausoleum of Hadrian completed.
162
  • Chinese troops guarding the northern frontier succumb to an epidemic. Three or four out of ten men die.
165
  • The Antonine Plague. An unknown disease (possibly smallpox) appears in the Roman Empire and repeatedly ravages its cities for the next fifteen years.
177
  • Christians take refuge in the Roman catacombs to escape the
    persecutions of Marcus Aurelius.
189
  • Marcus Aurelius's memorial column is completed at Rome.
195
  • Recent Christian convert Tertullian writes: "Scourges,
    pestilence, famine, earthquakes, and wars are to be regarded as
    blessings to crowded nations since they serve to prune away the
    luxuriant growth of the human race."
250
  • The Roman Emperor Decius attempts to re-establish respect for
    the gods by massacreing Christians. The persecution produces many
    martyrs whose bones become relics.
251
  • A new plague strikes the Roman Empire. For the next fifteen years, it claims up to five thousand victims a day in Rome; rural losses are said to be even greater.
  • Cyprian of Carthage writes: "How suitable, how necessary it is that this plague and pestilence, which seems horrible and deadly, searches out the justice of each and every one and examines the minds of the human race...."
310
  • A pestilence in northwestern China, accompanied by locusts and famine, kills 98% of the population over the next three years.
317
  • Smallpox and the measles appear in China.
322
  • A new plague kills a third of the Chinese people.
335
  • Jerusalem's Church of the Holy Sepulchre is consecrated on the
    presumed site of Christ's tomb.
337
  • The Emperor Constantine dies. His body rules over the Empire until
    his heirs resolve their differences.
501
  • The first evidence of the modern disease known as leprosy can be dated to this century. Skeletons from Britain, France, and Egypt show signs of the infection.
526
  • A magnificent tomb is built at Ravenna for Theodoric the Great. Theodoric is noted for his sanction of tomb-robbing, but only for the precious metal objects which he felt were of more value to the living than the dead.
542
  • Bubonic plague first appears in the Roman Empire.
563
  • The Council of Braga forbids burial within churches, but allows graves to be built into the outside walls.
585
  • Korean Buddhist missionaries bring smallpox to Japan.
600
  • Paraca Indians of Peru develop embalming.
610
  • The bubonic plague is first described in Chinese medical literature.
664
  • Churchmen attending the Synod of Whitby spread an unknown disease (variously believed to be plague, smallpox, measles, influenza, or something else) when they return to their homes in England, Ireland, and Wales.
687
  • St. Cuthbert dies in the Farne Islands. After his death, his
    bones are repeatedly moved.
699
  • Epic of Beowulf ends with the cremation of the king.
  • St. Guthlac makes his home in a hole opened by the looters of a Lincolnshire barrow tomb.
702
  • A Buddhist priest is the first recorded cremation in Japan.
740
  • The canons of Egbert deny Christian burial to suicides, except in the case of obvious insanity.
752
  • St. Cuthbert gets Papal permission to place a burial ground next
    to a church.
808
  • A new disease kills half Japan's population.
813
  • The Council of Mayence proscribes burials in churches.
837
  • Pope Gregory IV declares that All Saints Day (formerly the Peace of the Martyrs) shall be celebrated on 1 November.
895
  • The Council of Tribur forbids the burial of laymen in churches.
896
  • Pope Formosus is disinterred by his successor, Pope Stephen VII, and
    tried for heresy. His fingers of consecration are removed before
    he is reinterred. A few years later, Pope Sergius III repeats the
    trial and punishment.
922
  • Ibn Fadlan observes the ship-funeral of a Viking chief on the Volga. He reports that a willing slave woman is cremated with her master.
959
  • Mumps begins infecting Japan.
960
  • The Sung dynasty allows common people to erect shrines to
    their ancestors.
999
  • Millions atone their sins on 31 December in preparation for Judgement
    Day. It is indefinately delayed.


Ancient Times and Early Christianity 50,000 BC to 999 AD
The Middle Ages and the Renaissance 1000 AD to 1599 AD
The Age of Colonization and Enlightenment 1600 AD to 1799 AD
The Romantic and Industrial Era 1800 AD to 1899 AD
Modern Times 1900 to the present day

Photos come from the Detroit Publishing Archive of the Library of Congress American Memory Collection. 1 - Metarie Cemetery, New Orleans; 2 - Indian Mound, Vicksburg National Cemetery, Mississippi; 3 - St. Michael's Cemetery, Charleston, South Carolina