The earliest forms of burial have been linked to our cousins, Neanderthals, whose remains were found with tools, animal bones, and other personal artifacts. Since then, numerous cultures have used interpreted burials and have linked it to religious contexts. Egyptians believed mummifying the body was essential for the afterlife and Christian burials believed that the dead should be buried lying flat and face-up. Even species such as Chimpanzees and Elephants are known for placing twigs and branches over their fallen family members.
Over the years, burials became more intimate affairs out of respect for the dead. The item we know as a tombstone took on a different meaning in history. Tombstones were not grave markers: they were the large stones used to entomb the dead. The grave marker was the monument that identified the details of the deceased and was typically made of whatever material was abundant in the area (such as slate, granite, wood, or marble). Epitaphs or inscriptions became very popular during the Renaissance and eventually led to photo and laser etching.
Grave markers are also known as footstones in other cultures. Instead of placing the marker at the head of the grave, it would be placed at the foot of the grave. At one point in history, it was customary for graves to have both a headstone and footstone, but many footstones have been removed in recent years to make lawn maintenance easier. As time continued, headstones, tombstones, and grave markers all took on the same meaning and are used interchangeably in the funeral system.
Today granite memorials are the most popular type of grave markers in the United States because of its strong resistance to weathering. Memorials can come in all kinds of shapes, sizes, and colors. However, some cemeteries have rules and regulations about the types of grave markers they accept in order to keep all the graves uniform. Churchyards tend to be less restrictive and allow members to fulfill their final wishes creatively. Today, grave markers can be very simple or very ornate with their designs and monuments can be true testaments to a person’s memory and legacy.