Funeral urn

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Ornamental urn (strings for lowering the urn into the ground)

The burial urn (also called "grave urn") is a container known since the Neolithic for the final burial or storage of the ashes of the deceased after a cremation .

History and materials

In Central Europe, burial in urns and bowls first appeared in the Schönfeld culture (2500-2100 BC) and then disappeared again. Shortly thereafter, from around 2000 BC In England the collar urns (English. Collared urns) on. This phenomenon is later replaced by urns of the mainland type, the cordoned urn, which are slimmer and taller. Some of them were embedded in stone boxes. With the end of the Bronze Age from 1300 BC This form of burial began to spread throughout Central Europe and is known as the urn field culture . It is therefore extremely present in the Hallstatt period.

Numerous finds of urns show clearly different designs depending on the time and place. For example, ceramic face urns and house urns can be found in northern Italy, where they were occasionally found with replicas of Etruscan helmets. House urns were later found in central Germany and facial urns along the Pomeranian Baltic Sea, where they appeared during the LaTene period. In the Neuwied basin there is a bowl with a perforated rim as an Iron Age cremation burial. Pithoi and various bulbous vase shapes are found particularly along the Mediterranean coasts, with conical shapes being preferred in the west, while on the Adriatic more bulbous shapes with narrow necks and lids or replicas of houses. In Roman antiquity, situles were also used as urns.

In contrast to urn burials, pithoi burials primarily refer to body burials that may have preceded the urn graves, as some ash remains suggest. The earliest example of a pithoi burial comes from the end of the Neolithic (3650–3500 BC) in the Aegean and was discovered in Kephala on the island of Kea. In the early Minoan period it appears almost at the same time as the introduction of burials in Larnaken , a form of bone box as it is known in the Canaanite region. From the Middle Minoan period from around 2000–1550 BC. The burial in Pithois is becoming more and more popular and is known almost everywhere on the islands of the Aegean, the Turkish west coast and the Greek coast.

From around 1350 BC BC cremations appear in the Luwian-Hittite area of ​​Kizzuwatna or in the Syrian-Turkish border area around Karkemish. A late Hittite urn cemetery was found in the Karahuyuk region in the Elbistan district in 2018 when this area was conquered by Šuppiluliuma I. There is evidence of urn graves in the vicinity of Karkemish on the Syrian-Turkish border in Yunus (Turkey) and Tell Shiukh Fawqâni (Syria), which are similar to those of Hama during the small Neo-Hittite kingdoms. At that time, Luwian is still documented and the kings assumed the title of Hittite great kings. At the same time, Aramaic is displacing the old commercial language and a bilingual Phoenician-Luwian inscription documents the spread of new characters. Results from the Syrian excavation of Tell Shiukh Fawqâni not only show similarities with urn graves in Hama, but also that this practice ended with the Assyrian conquest. Just as noteworthy are grave goods such as iron arrowheads for men and jewelry, clay kettles and spindle whorls for women and children. Some iron horde have been found in this area.

The modern

Modern cremation and the associated change in urn culture in Germany began with the commissioning of the Gotha crematorium in 1878. At the end of the 19th century there were only five crematoriums in Germany: Gotha (1878), Heidelberg (1891), Hamburg (1892 ), Jena (1898) and Offenbach (1899). At the beginning of the 20th century, the number of crematoria and the associated number of cremations increased by leaps and bounds. By October 1937, the number of cremation facilities in what was then the German Reich had risen to 116. At that time Germany had by far the most cremation facilities in Europe. In total, over a million cremations had been carried out by September 30, 1937. The development of the number of cremations in Dresden may make this clear: While around 30,000 cremations were carried out in the first 18 years of the existence of the cremation facility in Tolkewitz, this number doubled in the eight years that followed. The increase in cremations required legal equality with burial. In addition, the previously existing legal uncertainty and fragmentation of the law required the creation of a uniform legal basis that took into account the circumstances of modern cremation facilities.



Manufacturer advertisement with urns of Willibald Völsing KG from 1920
Modern decorative urn
Urn offer from a current manufacturer

Even in the early days of modern cremation, emphasis was placed on treating the ashes with piety. They are "... without being touched by hand, collected and placed in a tin capsule that is soldered on the spot." Tin can ashes from the crematorium should prevent mix-ups. At this point in time, there was no standardized locking technology. Ash capsules were partly soldered, partly screwed and filed down. In this way, an urn could only be opened by force.

Ornamental urn

Because the ash containers in Germany could be set up above ground for several decades, durable materials were preferred, preferably stone. The ash container was used in such urns. The burial vessels were often made of natural stone: granite , marble , sandstone , porphyry , shell limestone , travertine , serpentinite . In simpler cases, metals are used: iron , bronze , zinc , copper . Since the idle times in cemeteries are limited, previously 30 years, today increasingly 20 years, ceramic , glass or artificial stone can also be found.

The burial in a decorative urn gives the possibility of burial in an urn hall but also after the urn ceremony in a cemetery. The possible sizes of the urns of that time are impressive: the maximum height is 80 cm, the largest possible diameter 40 cm. During this time, vase-shaped urns and urn steles are predominantly found in our cemeteries.


In the post-war period , up to the beginning of the 1990s, the selection of urns was very different in Germany, depending on the respective economic system. While the offers in the market economy system of the Federal Republic show a great variety of materials, in the planned economy system of the shortage economy in the GDR such a choice did not exist. The only option left for the bereaved was to opt for an urn made of pressed synthetic resin or duroplastic , if this was available, or to forego the burial of a decorative urn .

Since the 1970s, the range in Germany has been uniformly extensive and ranges from simple urns made in large numbers to individually crafted and artistically designed items. The variety of materials used has increased further: in response to the demand for impermanence in the ground, which has arisen in some places, urns made of thin-walled sheet iron with galvanic copper or brass plating have been developed. With the advent of burial at sea , special water-soluble urns were developed, and wood as an additional material found its way into the range of urns on offer.

Urns made of biodegradable natural materials have been found since the mid-1990s . There are biodegradable single-vessel urns with a decorative design. Biodegradable single-vessel urns have the advantage that after the burial site has expired, the remaining ash capsules and urns do not have to be dug up again and disposed of elsewhere, for example on the cemetery grounds with other urns.

The cemetery compulsory in Germany leads to commercial developments to serve the wishes of the bereaved. This includes filling a small amount of ash into mini urns the size of a salt shaker. This should enable the bereaved and the bereaved to have a version for storage in the house and in the immediate vicinity.


The basis for urn burials was laid down in the Cremation Act (1934) and its implementing ordinance (1938). With the entry into force of these regulations, the crematoria were prescribed a uniform procedure for the treatment of the ashes of the deceased. The use of a tightly closed ash capsule and its labeling according to uniform principles is just as mandatory as the use of the fireclay identity stone (urn stone). These aids were by no means only introduced in Germany, but also in neighboring countries where cremation was practiced (Austria, Belgium, Czechoslovakia, the Netherlands). The ash capsule is made of sheet iron (cf. the now withdrawn DIN 3198 "Ash capsule for urns"). The urn manufacturers were faced with the challenge of designing the decorative urns so that the ash capsule could fit inside. In addition to the previously mentioned, comparatively expensive materials, the use of synthetic resin as a cheaper variant has been widespread since the 1930s.



  • Hans Joachim Behnke: Investigations into burial customs of the Urnfield Age and the older Iron Age on the Upper Rhine. The Hallstatt-era burial mounds of Ewattingen and Lembach and the Urnfield-era settlement of Ewattingen in the Waldshut district. Leipziger Universitäts-Verlag, Leipzig 2000, ISBN 3-934565-65-4 (also: Hamburg, Univ., Diss., 2000).
  • Daniela Kern : Thunau am Kamp - a fortified hilltop settlement. (Excavation 1965–1990). Urnfield settlement finds from the lower wood meadow. (= Communications from the Prehistoric Commission of the Austrian Academy of Sciences. 41). Publishing house of the Austrian Academy of Sciences, Vienna 2001, ISBN 3-7001-2985-8 .
  • Wolfgang Kimmig : The urn field culture in Baden. Investigated on the basis of the grave finds. (= Roman-Germanic research. 14). de Gruyter, Berlin 1940.
  • Hermann Müller-Karpe : Contributions to the chronology of the Urnfield time north and south of the Alps. (= Roman-Germanic research. 22). de Gruyter, Berlin 1959

Web links

Commons : Funeral urns  - collection of pictures, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. Aline Tenu: Assyrians and Aramaeans in the Euphrates Valley viewed from the cemetery of Tell Shiukh Fawqâni (Syria). 2009. doi: 10.4000 / syria.515
  2. ^ Max Opitz (ed.): Information book for the German funeral industry . Görlitz 1938, pp. 115 and 116.
  3. ^ Max Opitz (ed.): Information book for the German funeral industry. Görlitz 1938, p. 172 and 173.
  4. a b G. L. Köstler: The undertaker - indispensable technical manual for mortuary burials, coffin factories and related industries. Eger 1911, p. 104.
  5. ^ Max Opitz: The funeral system and the threatening communalization. Görlitz 1920, p. 37.
  6. Norbert Fischer: Ash tombs and ash systems of modern cremation in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. In: Grave Culture in Germany. Berlin 2009, ISBN 978-3-496-02824-6 , pp. 151-161.