burial, disposal of a corpse in a grave or tomb. The first evidence of deliberate burial was found in European caves of the Paleolithic period. Prehistoric discoveries include both individual and communal burials, the latter indicating that pits or ossuaries were unsealed for later use or that servants or members of the family were slain to accompany the deceased. Both practices have been followed by various peoples into modern times. The ancient Egyptians developed the coffin to keep bodies from touching the earth; this burial practice was continued by the Greeks and Romans when they used the burial form of disposal. The word burial has been applied to funerary practices other than interment, such as sea burial, or tree burial (which usually precedes later interment). Secondary burial frequently occurs to terminate a period of mourning (see funeral customs). See also cemetery.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.