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The fascinating history of cemeteries - Keith Eggener

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Spindly trees, rusted gates, crumbling stone, a solitary mourner: these things come to mind when we think of cemeteries. But not long ago, many burial grounds were lively places, with gardens and crowds of people -- and for much of human history, we didn’t bury our dead at all. How did cemeteries become what they are today? Keith Eggener delves into our ever-evolving rituals for honoring the dead.

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Meet The Creators

  • Educator Keith Eggener
  • Director Remus Buznea, Kyriaki Kyriakou
  • Narrator Adrian Dannatt
  • Art Director Remus Buznea, Kyriaki Kyriakou
  • Animator Remus Buznea, Kyriaki Kyriakou
  • Compositor Utkucan Eken (Playhead)
  • Sound Designer Lister Rossel (Playhead)
  • Content Producer Gerta Xhelo
  • Editorial Producer Alex Rosenthal
  • Associate Producer Bethany Cutmore-Scott
  • Associate Editorial Producer Elizabeth Cox
  • Script Editor Alex Gendler

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Additional Resources for you to Explore

Cemeteries are found all over the world and come in many varieties, including family, church, and municipal graveyards, rural and military cemeteries, memorial parks, and natural or green burial places. Cemeteries contain physical and cultural artifacts designed by all different people and these places are valuable repositories for local history. They also convey weighty ideas about social status and organization, mortality, religion, and the afterlife. If we look closely at their planning, plantings, monuments, markers, and symbolism, we can learn much about not only the individuals buried in them, but about the larger cultures that built them.

Cemeteries are often called necropoles, or cities of the dead. And just as in cities of the living, their architectural elements come in widely varied styles that speak of cultural shifts and changing tastes. While traditional architectural styles such as Classical, Gothic, and Egyptian revivals predominate in many cemeteries, including some of the most famous ones, others include tombs and other structures of cutting-edge contemporary design. Meanwhile, as architects, historians, and others work to preserve important burial grounds of the past, others are busy planning the cemeteries and mortuary practices of the future. Such considerations will become increasingly important as the Earth’s population rises, our climate worsens, and we confront the mounting environmental costs of traditional earth burial. To learn more about the alternative practices to traditional burials, check out this TED talk by mortician Caitlin Doughty.

Looking for the grave of a friend or relative or of someone famous? Try this website to help you locate it.

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About TED-Ed Animations

TED-Ed Animation lessons feature the words and ideas of educators brought to life by professional animators. Are you an educator or animator interested in creating a TED-Ed Animation? Nominate yourself here »

Meet The Creators

  • Educator Keith Eggener
  • Director Remus Buznea, Kyriaki Kyriakou
  • Narrator Adrian Dannatt
  • Art Director Remus Buznea, Kyriaki Kyriakou
  • Animator Remus Buznea, Kyriaki Kyriakou
  • Compositor Utkucan Eken (Playhead)
  • Sound Designer Lister Rossel (Playhead)
  • Content Producer Gerta Xhelo
  • Editorial Producer Alex Rosenthal
  • Associate Producer Bethany Cutmore-Scott
  • Associate Editorial Producer Elizabeth Cox
  • Script Editor Alex Gendler

Share

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