Although evidence exists that bodies were cremated as far back as the Neolithic period, cremation was first formally introduced into Western culture by the Greeks (around 1000 B.C.), who, upon finding that enemies desecrated the bodies of their dead soldiers, protected them by cremating them and shipping the cremated body home for burial. Viking cultures once set their dead leaders afloat in ships that were ignited and set afire on the water.
Today cremation is a common practice in most countries. In the East it has long been the primary method of disposition. Japan makes it mandatory, and in England cremation has become by far the most popular method of disposition. In the United States, the practice has gained steadily in popularity over the last fifteen years. Cremation, which followed only 8 percent of all deaths in 1977, is predicted to reach 32.5% by the year 2010.
The reasons for the rise in popularity of cremation are numerous. It is considered less expensive to earth burial. Some choose it due to the increasing scarcity of cemetery land. Others see it as a quick, clean and simple method to dispose of the body. The urbanization and increasing mobility of American families have diminished the sense of heritage and homeland that once defined the "family plot." In addition, religious objections have lessened over the recent past.
The process of cremation takes about two to three hours. The body is placed in a retort, where extremely high temperatures reduce it to bone fragments. After cremation, the cremated remains, often referred to as the cremains, are usually processed in a pulverizing device and placed in a temporary container or an urn that the family has provided or purchased. Cremains weigh approximately 5 pounds and take up space of 150 to 250 cubicinches.