An Introduction to the History of Ceramic Cremation Urns

Ceramics has a vast and ancient history. Throughout much of that history people have been creating vessels and other works to use for funeral ceremonies. Many of these vessels were used to hold the remains after cremation, others were used for funeral rites and rituals or to memorialize the departed. This history extends over 10,000 years and includes most of the worlds civilizations. A variety of clays occur naturally over much of the earth and it is an abundantly common material. Because of clay’s amazing capability to be shaped and fired to stone-like hardness ceramic technology arose independently in various places and times in human history. It is perhaps the oldest technology of humanity, and ancient a revered skill.

Some of the most beautiful ceramics in the world are the ancient funerary vessels remaining from different cultures. One of the greatest Western civilizations to create a well developed ceramic technology was the Greco-Roman culture. The ancient Greek culture had a long tradition of cremation that carried over into the Roman Empire and spread over much of the ancient western world. Over time the ceramics used for funeral rites took on many different forms.

Villanovan Cinerary Urn Italy ca 900-700 BC
Etruscan burial urn Italy ca. 150 BC
Protoattic loutrophoros, ca. 680 BC. Found in Athens.