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A Timeline for Taphophiles

Ancient Times and Early Christianity
61,000 B.C.
  • Neanderthals bury their dead in a pit at Kebara Cave, Israel. The site later yields the oldest known hyoid bone, indicating that Neanderthals probably had a voice box and, perhaps, spoken language.
60,000 B.C.
  • Mungo 3 is buried with his feet pointing East. toward Lake Mungo, Australia.
50,000 B.C.
  • Neanderthals bury their dead with flowers.
30,000 B.C.
  • Chinese use coffins to bury their dead.
9380 B.C.
  • Earliest probable date for “Kennewick Man”, a fossil that may upset theories about the settlement of North America.
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.
2130 B.C.
  • First appearance of the Egyptian "Coffin Texts", magical formulae that are painted on the lid of coffins.
2000 B.C.
  • Sudanese princes begin the practice of burying princely retainers alive.
  • Gallery graves appear in Europe.
1800 B.C.
  • Earliest date for the Tamin mummies. They are buried along what will later be called “The Silk Road in simple shrouds.
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.
1323 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.
1000 B.C.
  • Bodies buried in China’s Tamin region are buried fully dressed, often in plaid tartans.
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.
500 B.C.
  • Pindar promulgates the doctrine that entrance into Elysium, the Greek paradise, is contingent on living a righteous life.
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.
323 B.C.
  • Death of Alexander the Great. Control of his remains will embroil his successors in a squabble that will eventually be won by Ptolomy Solter who removes the remains to Egypt.
275 B.C.
  • Herophilus uses autopsies to teach anatomy and pathology in Alexandria, Egypt.
246 B.C.
  • Emperor Qin orders construction of his enormous tomb & burial mound near Xian, China. The tombs treasures, of which only a tiny part have been revealed at the start of the 20th Century (see 1974) may include an animated map of Qin’s empire with rivers of mercury and enough wives and luxuries to last him an eternity.
238 B.C.
  • Death of Ashoka, Buddhist king who has sponsored construction of 24,000 funerary monuments known as stupas.
217 B.C.
  • Death & burial of Master Xi, minister tu the first emperor of China. Rediscovery of his tomb in the 20th century yields 500 bamboo strips, the earliest known legal documents in China.
205 B.C.
  • Death of Ptolomy Philopater, who is responsible for the building of a famiey mausoleum in Alexandria that also contains the remains of Alexander the Great.
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.
143 B.C.
  • The Roman defeat of Carthage puts an end to the Carthaginian practice of infant sacrifice.
88 B.C.
  • Ptolomy X dies. Re is known for stealing the golden coffin of Alexander the Great, replacing it with another made of alabaster.
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.
28 B.C.
  • The Emperor Augustus orders the construction of a massive circular mausoleum for himself at the Campus Martius.
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.
  • Roman physician Aulus Cornelius Celsus advocates dissection as a necessary element in a doctor's training.
  • According to Christian scripture, Jesus is crucified and rises three days after his death.
  • Roman cemetery for the IX “Hispana” Legion established at Lincoln, England.
  • The IX Legion moves to York, as evidenced by the tombstones for ts soldiers that it leaves behind. By 122, it disappears without a trace, presumably slaughtered by rebelling Britons.
  • The eruption of Mount Vesuvius results in the entombment of thousands of citizens of Herculaneum and Pompeii.
  • The opening of the Roman Colosseum is celebrated by the sacrifice of many animals and men in gladitorial combats.
  • A plague decimates the Roman Empire, forcing the abandonment of many towns and villages.
  • The Emperor Hadrian builds a temple to Aphrodite on the spot reputed to be the hill of Calvary. (See 375.)
  • Mausoleum of Hadrian completed.
  • Chinese troops guarding the northern frontier succumb to an epidemic. Three or four out of ten men die.
  • The Antonine Plague. An unknown disease (possibly smallpox) appears in the Roman Empire and repeatedly ravages its cities for the next fifteen years.
  • Christians take refuge in the Roman catacombs to escape the persecutions of Marcus Aurelius.
  • The ashes of the Christian martyrs of Lyons are thrown into the Seine after a public spectacle featuring their executions and cremation.
  • Marcus Aurelius's memorial column is completed at Rome.
  • 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."
  • The Emperor Calacala mahes the last recorded visit to the tomb of Alexander the Great.
  • The Roman Emperor Decius attempts to re-establish respect for the gods by massacreing Christians. The persecution produces many martyrs whose bones become relics.
  • 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...."
  • Rioters in Alexanderia destroy the tomb of Alexander the Great. A century later, St. John Chrysostrom reports that it’s exact location has been forgotten.
  • A pestilence in northwestern China, accompanied by locusts and famine, kills 98% of the population over the next three years.
  • Smallpox and the measles appear in China.
  • A new plague kills a third of the Chinese people.
  • At the behest of the Emperor Constantine, Archbishop Makarios of Jerusalem razes a temple erected 200 years earlier by the Emperor Hadrian and pronounces an empty tomb beneath the foundation to be that where Christ lay for three days before the Resurrection.
  • Jerusalem's Church of the Holy Sepulchre (Martyrion) is consecrated on the presumed site of Christ's tomb.
  • The Emperor Constantine dies. His body rules over the Empire until his heirs resolve their differences.
  • Earliest known mention of the burial site of St. John the Baptist at Sabaste, Samaria.
  • The relics of St. John Chrysostom, regarded as troublesome when he was alive, are brought to Constantinople where they are formally received by the Patriarch and the Byzantine Emperor.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Bubonic plague first appears in the Roman Empire.
  • The Council of Braga forbids burial within churches, but allows graves to be built into the outside walls.
  • Korean Buddhist missionaries bring smallpox to Japan.
  • Paraca Indians of Peru develop embalming.
  • The bubonic plague is first described in Chinese medical literature.
  • Death of the Prophet Mohammed in the arms of his wife A'isha. He is buried in her quarters inside his mosque at Medina.
  • Oswald, King of Northumbia, is killed at the battle of Maserfield by King Penda of Mercia. Penda orders that his Christian opponent be dismembered: the body is sacrificed to Wodan while the head, hands, and arms are hung up on stakes. These are recovered and become objects of veneration.
  • Ali ibn Abi Talib, cousin of and fourth successor to the Prophet Mohammed, is assassinated with a poisoned sword. His tomb at Nujaf becomes an important center of pilgrimage, particularly for members of the Ghulat sect who believe that Ali has not died but will return from heaven as the Messiah.
  • 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.
  • St. Chad dies at Lichfield and is interred in a wood coffin with a view window so that pilgrims can grab a handful of his dust and feed it to their sick cattle.
  • St. Cuthbert dies in the Farne Islands. After his death, his bones are repeatedly moved.
  • 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.
  • Princess Osith dies in the convent she founded at Chich, Essex. A legend arises that she was killed by pirates for refusing to commit idolatry. Following her decaptitaion, the story goes, she carries her head three miles to the churchyard where she is buried.
  • A Buddhist priest is the first recorded cremation in Japan.
  • Caliph Al-Walid demolishes Medina's Prophet Mosque, which contains the tomb of the Prophet Mohammed, to make way for a new one.
  • A string of stone crosses, set at seven mile intervals, is erected along the route taken by the funeral procession of St. Aldhelm, Bishop of Sherbourne.
  • Citizens of Basra become so involved in the funeral of the Muslim ascetic Al-Hasan Al-Basri that no afternoon prayers are offered because the mosque is empty.
  • The canons of Egbert deny Christian burial to suicides, except in the case of obvious insanity.
  • St. Cuthbert gets Papal permission to place a burial ground next to a church.
  • A new disease kills half Japan's population.
  • The Council of Mayence proscribes burials in churches.
  • Charlemagne is embalmed, richly dressed, and propped up into a sitting position for his entombment.
  • Pope Gregory IV declares that All Saints Day (formerly the Peace of the Martyrs) shall be celebrated on 1 November.
  • Only four people dare to attend the funeral of Muslim mystic and rationalist theologian Al-Muhasibi due to his persecution as a heretic by Bagdhad Caliph Al-Mutawakkil.
  • The relics of St. Cuthbert, St. Oswald, and St. Edbert begin a nomadic existence in the north of England, following the Viking sack of Lindesfarne, that does not end until 995 when they are enshrined at Durham.
  • The Council of Tribur forbids the burial of laymen in churches.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Mumps begins infecting Japan.
  • The Sung dynasty allows common people to erect shrines to their ancestors.
  • The body of St. Swithun is dismembered, so that the relics may be displayed simulataneously on the high altar and in the sacristry of Winchester Cathedral.

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