Skip to content

The History of Gravestones and Memorials

The History of Gravestones and Memorials

Memorializing the our loved ones with a unique gravestone is very common. Some prefer a conservative slab that simply displays the name, birth, and death date of the individual. Others go above and beyond with large, ornate carvings featuring a full bible verse.

Believe it or not, the modern markers that we see in our cemeteries today have evolved over centuries from very rugged origins.

Early Grave Markers

Dating back somewhere between 3,000 and 4,000 B.C., the earliest grave markers were actual monuments. It marked the boundaries of the grave and help to keep the occupant securely beneath the ground.

These dolmens or chamber tombs were formed using large stones or a pile of stones. Wood was also used to cover some burial plots, but it was not as durable as stone. Rather than placing the deceased in cemeteries, the earliest burial plots were created near the home of the family.

From Gravestone to Headstone

The original gravestones used their weight to protect the body from rising to the surface. They would feature surface markings to indicate details regarding the name, age, and death date of the deceased.

Although the terms “headstone” and “gravestone” are often used interchangeably, the size of the grave covering has decreased over time. Rather than cover the entire plot with the weight of wood or stone, a smaller headstone would be placed as a grave marker.

Origin Stories

There is evidence suggesting that the Celtic and Roman cultures were among the earliest to memorialize the deceased with special headstones. The Romans provided a name and title of the deceased with stories of any battles they fought.

In Scotland, the old headstones would typically describe the profession practiced by the deceased person.

In Celtic culture, it was more normal to keep the headstone very simple until Christianity was introduced to Ireland. The Celtic cross shaped headstones started to gain a lot of popularity from this point forward.

Trend of headstone in the United States

Stones or wood piled on the grave site was considered a traditional headstone in the US. Once technology and transportation made other options available around 1650, headstones were usually created with thin Metamorphosis Shale.

Brownstone and sandstone were other popular headstone materials, but there was a need for longer-lasting solutions.

Marble was typically used for royalty and high-class individuals, especially in the color white. Limestone was also used, but the problem with these materials is the gradual wear that would make inscriptions illegible.

Granite emerged as the most popular material in the United States starting from 1860 until our current date. It’s the strongest headstone material available, and it does not deteriorate from weather exposure. There are some cemeteries that do not allow the installation of grave markers if they are not made of granite.