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For funeral prepared, in North America common ground crypt

A grave is the place where a deceased living being, preferably a human corpse, is buried. The cult of the dead of cultures also relates to graves . Most of the time graves are in cemeteries or burial fields . Individual graves are rare and often of great importance.


Used for the bricked or walled above or underground graves. In the strict sense of the word, a crypt is any room used for a burial. Mausoleums and burial chapels are larger burial sites with a special equipment or meaning of the buried person. In a broader sense, Grablege refers to a complex with several graves of a noble family, mostly in the choir or the crypt of a church.
In North America, especially to prevent the lawn covering the graves from sinking in, it is widespread or required to lower coffins into individual excess containers made of concrete, steel or plastic or to put covers over them.
Are a special form of burial place. The shape of the pyramid has also found imitators in more recent times. The earth pyramid that Prince von Pückler had built for his wife is a good example . The burial sites, probably for tribal princes, are the Stone Age megalithic barrows in northern Germany.
This is a special memorial sign erected on a burial site, often one of artistically designed form. As a reminder, a tombstone or a wooden cross is usually placed in cemeteries in German-speaking countries . Often a grave is decorated with flowers or plants. The grave light that can often be seen is based on the tradition of Eternal Light .
To place belongs next to the grave a certain area, the grave inscription as Epitaph or dead Shields (panels honor the deceased in churches). The burial place is the place of mourning near the deceased; depending on the type of burial it is different. German cemetery regulations mainly differentiate whether it is a single grave or a multi-place grave. Elective graves , row graves or anonymous graves differ depending on the selection . The anonymous grave is usually the communal grave ; the relatives have a cemetery area, but (correctly) the exact location of the grave site is not known. Memorial stones are set up (if so) for the entire community, the dates of anonymous burials are not listed. A more recent development is the semi-anonymous grave complex.
Single grave
The term stands for a grave that is not associated with other graves in fields or churchyards. Some personalities can be buried separately or there is a separate cause that determines the individual burial site.


Even early humans honored their dead in various ways. The burial culture and the design of the tombs at that time (sepulchral culture) are sources of past cultures. Sometimes graves are the best and most diverse evidence of ancient cultures. So they became an important subject of archaeological research. The beginning of burial records can already be found in the Neanderthals' culture . At first, an earth pit was used to store the remains. Mesolithic burials were also carried out in clam heaps ( Køkkenmøddinger ).

A grave is the closed, subterranean, partly also submarine site or the cavity that is partly laid out as a burial ground or cemetery with other similar objects . They are mostly marked above ground as resting places for dead bodies, for bones in ossaries or for dead ashes in urns . Their design can be very different. The remains of the dead can be stored underground or above ground. As far as the whole body is present, it was also positioned in an orderly orientation. The dead were also stored in culture-dependent conditions, tribal princes were kept in noble surroundings, and boats were used for safekeeping for seafaring peoples. Some cultures put useful or valuable objects in the grave of the deceased. That is why many graves were opened and emptied by grave robbers .

Some cultures of prehistoric times put men's and women's graves spatially separate. The burials take place individually or collectively. The Cillin cemeteries in Ireland were reserved for children who died unbaptized.


One of the oldest places where human skeletons have been found are caves. However, the term cave tombs (the oldest is the 60,000 year old Kebara Cave , Israel) is incorrect in relation to a real burial site, as only a few places have been used for it. Later, artificially created (artificial) caves also served as a repository for human remains, but in many cases they were sacrificed.

In Myra (Lycia) and Fethiye (in today's Turkey) there are still historical rock tombs from Lycian times.


Rock tombs in Myra

Not every dead body belongs to one that has died from natural causes. Human sacrifices were deposited in caves, cult buildings , megalithic graves , earthwork trenches or in temples and moors. Their bones were mostly not found in anatomical or individual associations, nor did they belong to complete skeletons (skull separation). In Nordic megalithic systems from the time of the funnel beaker culture , no corpse was completely buried; rather, excarnated bones are the rule there. In the subsequent culture of the corded ceramics , skeletons that are found in stone-enclosed structures are more complete, but not infrequently divided. In the huts of the dead that have been reused in a multicultural way , the juxtaposition of piles of bones and skeletal parts in the anatomical association gives rise to conflicting interpretations. However, the total number of victims does not exceed the three percent mark in any culture. Even apparently regular burials of animals (cattle sacrifices) point to the fact that burial-like burials can certainly have the character of sacrifice.

Types of tombs

Prepared for coffin burial in earth

The German cemetery statutes differentiate between different types of graves, namely

  • according to the number of grave sites (individual graves, family graves),
  • according to the type of burial type (urn graves, earth graves, grave chamber systems made of concrete, special graves) and
  • according to the type of burial goal (elective graves, row graves, anonymous graves).

Electoral grave

An election grave is selected directly and offers more detailed design options. Elective graves are grave sites that can be freely selected on given areas (e.g. the cemetery grounds). One advantage of this type of grave is the possibility of extending the right to use the grave after the rest period has expired. This is particularly important in cases where graves are to be used as family graves. Elective graves are relatively expensive compared to row graves and anonymous graves. The costs vary greatly from municipality to municipality and have risen sharply since 2000.

Row grave

The grave in rows is assigned by the cemetery bearer side by side in chronological order "one after the other". There is no influence on the exact location of the grave site. Row graves are individual graves. After the rest period has expired, these graves can usually not be extended, but are leveled and reallocated. Use over several generations is therefore not possible. The design options for row graves are usually more restricted by the cemetery regulations . In addition, the grave area of ​​row graves is often smaller than that of elective graves. The practice of the row grave stems from the reform efforts in the late 18th century, after which efforts were made to achieve equality in death.

Anonymous grave

The anonymous grave is usually the communal grave ; The relatives have a cemetery area available, but (correctly) the exact location of the grave site is not known. Memorial stones are set up (if so) for the entire community, the dates of anonymous burials are not listed. A more recent development is the semi-anonymous grave complex. Anonymous grave fields are usually intended for the burial of urns. The burial takes place without the presence of relatives. The exact location of the individual grave site is not marked. A central memorial stone or a plaque can be set up in urn community facilities. Sometimes the names of all buried people are recorded. The individual urn sites are not identified by name. In semi-anonymous systems, the location of the grave site is spatially assigned to a shared memorial stone. The maintenance costs that are necessary for several years are usually comparatively low for collective burials , since the community fields are looked after centrally by the cemetery operator. An individual design is therefore excluded.

The rest time in the individual graves is specified in the various cemetery statutes and state laws. It is possibly linked to the period of use and is based on the regional conditions with regard to the nature of the soil, burial habits and local requirements.

Inclusion of urns

Urn graves

Urns can be buried above and below the ground. The burial of an urn in the earth grave is possible in an individual as well as in a communal grave. Anonymous urn burials are often performed in a lawn. Above-ground burial is possible in different variants. The urn is buried in a wall niche in a columbarium and in the urn stele, which is then closed.

Coffin burial

In the past, the deceased of wealthy families were buried in the above-ground crypt . Today, however, this form of burial is only rarely practiced. The burial of a corpse in a coffin is common today in underground graves. A coffin can be buried in an individual or a family grave. The choice between elective grave and row grave is possible. As a rule, only urns can be buried in anonymous graves. Until the 18th century, members of the poorer population were often buried in reusable community coffins, most of which had a fold-out floor. Formally, the plague coffins used in times of increased mortality corresponded to them .

Earth graves

Earth graves (archaeologically: shallow graves ) were initially only found as body graves, later also as cremation graves . The oldest surviving tomb (Qafzeh, Israel) is about 100,000 years old. The direction of the buried in early cultures is usually oriented uniformly to one point of the compass.

In Judaism , for religious reasons, only the body grave is practiced, which according to faith enables the resurrection. A Jewish cemetery is being set up outside the city because the dead are considered unclean. A grave in a Jewish cemetery ( Hebrew בית קברות Bet ḳvarot "burial house" or Hebrew בית-עלמין Bet-ʿalmin "Eternal House ") is intended for eternity, which corresponds to one of the most fundamental principles of the Jewish Halacha . The burial is mandatory and permanent dead peace shall prevail. Unlike in Christianity , a grave site must not be re-occupied. An exhumation or relocation of a grave is not permitted, except in very special circumstances. A tombstone ( Hebrew מצבה Mazewa ) symbolizes the obligation not to forget the deceased.

The adoption of cremation and urn graves, known in Central Europe since ribbon ceramics , was not taken up in Christianity until the 20th century. With the practice of veneration of saints , the graves of the clergy and lay people were moved to the center of the settlement, in the area in and around the church. Their arrangement was made according to social status. In the 18th and 19th centuries, the graves were relocated to cemeteries on the periphery of the communities for reasons of hygiene.

Graves in different cultures

The design of the burial depends on the culture, on the religion and also on the local conditions. Entombments were also named after the type of status symbols they were given. So there is in Europe

The burial as a so-called stool is considered the oldest. The intact corpse lies like an embryo in the womb. This position is interpreted as a return to the origins of life.

In some ancient cultures, the dead were not actually buried. In cases of hard earth and little wood, as is the case in Central Asia, the dead are taken up trees or towers . Here they are left to scavenging birds, as is customary with the Zoroastics . Generally and ceremonially designed, one speaks of air burials , although this word is subject to a change in meaning.

Fire as an element of transition into the "afterlife area" is the basis for cremation and cremation . In today's societies, the principle of hygiene is more in the foreground, in that the corpse is transformed into "aseptic" ashes.

The Seminoles buried their dead in hollow trees. In these tree graves, decomposition led to the dissolution of the dead, which represented the transition to another form of life.

Tarand tombs

The Tarand tomb was a typical grave shape in the areas of Estonia and Northern Latvia from the first to the fifth century AD. Occasionally they were also found in south-west Finland. Characteristic of Tarand graves are rectangular cells (Estonian tarand ) built together from large stones or dry stone walls. These were covered by the backfill of small stones and earth. In central Sweden, corpses have been buried in Tarand graves since the end of the Bronze Age. Graves with a length of up to 60 meters and a width of up to 25 meters have been found. These are mass graves in which both the ashes of cremations and entire corpses were buried. Grave goods were placed in the embankment, such as glass beads, bronze spirals or bracelets. A well-known site is, for example, Kõmsi .

Special forms

In a certain temporal or regional context, after the decomposition, the bones were collected in ossuaries, the ossuaries , also called Karner or in catacombs . Such systems can be found in Tyrol , in the Paris catacombs, in northern Bohemia or in the Alentejo .

Sailors' graves and military cemeteries near battlefields are to be seen as special forms.

In the course of epidemics, disasters or wars, mass graves are laid. In the course of mass killings - especially among civilians - they are the result of human rights violations. Examples of this are the mass graves from the 1990s in the successor states of Yugoslavia and those established during World War II .

Because burial law sets strict limits in Germany and Austria, burial habits change only slowly. Alternatives to burial in a piety-bound cemetery are burial in cleared woodland at the tree roots, on mountain meadows, balloon burials and burial at sea . In Bremen, since 2015, the scattering of the ashes of deceased on private properties and designated areas has been permitted under certain conditions.

Udo Proksch recruited around 300 members for an association of the vertically buried in order to abandon the stooped posture of life and save space in the cemetery. In the Heldenberg memorial , its builder Joseph Pargfrieder is buried in a seat coffin in an accessible crypt.

Special grave shapes

Honor grave
Graves of honor are often donated by cities and municipalities for deserving citizens.
Hereditary funeral
Hereditary burials refer to family graves or graves of a noble family.
Above-ground grave
Burial chambers and crypts are built in many cultures instead of burial in the ground.
a mock grave with no remains; several combined cenotaphs are called necropolis (city of the dead).
a burial structure to hold urns; In ancient times, corpses were also placed directly in walls that could also be located underground.
Funeral community
a semi-anonymous type of grave with individual care in trust.

Criteria for the selection of the burial place

The dead care is the customary law guaranteed right and also the duty to care for the body of a deceased person and to his whereabouts. The individual graves on or outside of cemeteries differ in their design options and their price. The care required for the deceased's surviving dependents varies and is fixed when the grave is created. An individual earth or urn grave must be planted according to most cemetery statutes. Relatives can take on this task themselves or transfer it to a gardener or other service institution. However, there are grave types that require little or no maintenance, communal graves are an example of this. Costs for this usually arise with the acquisition of the grave site. Rest periods and the possibility of extending the duration of the grave site differ depending on the requirements of the respective local legal provisions.


The design of graves is specified in the respective cemetery statutes. For example, the information on the depth of at least 0.90 meters from the surface of the earth to the upper edge of the coffin up to information on the grave depth of 1.8 meters for single graves up to 2.4 meters for double graves.

Double graves

Peter Simons family grave in Nemmenich (2011)

According to the traditional view or heteronormative mourning and burial culture, in double graves the woman lies to the right of the man and the man to the left of the woman.


  • Thorsten Benkel: The administration of death. Approaches to a Sociology of the Cemetery . Logos, Berlin 2013, ISBN 978-3-8325-3126-3 .
  • Thomas Struchholz: Cemetery - A place with a future. Cemetery planning in practice. Textbook. Struchholz Kunst GbR, Veitshöchheim 2013, ISBN 978-3-9812318-6-1 .
  • Philippe Ariès : History of Death. 11th edition. dtv, Munich 2005, ISBN 3-423-30169-4 .
  • Beckmann, Anett: Mental history and aesthetic investigations of the tomb sculpture of the Karlsruhe main cemetery . Kit Scientific Publishing, 2006. ISBN 3-86644-032-4
  • Working group cemetery and memorial, Museum for Sepulchral Culture : Grave Culture in Germany: History of Tombs. Berlin 2009

Web links

Commons : Graves  - collection of images, videos and audio files
Wiktionary: grave  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

  1. Anonymous grave
  2. Many examples of such grave sites on your own land can be found on the list of burial places of well-known personalities .
  3. Electoral grave
  4. Electoral grave. on: bestattungen.de
  5. That's how expensive the cemetery is. on: rp-online.de Düsseldorf 2007.
  6. tz .de: Death is so expensive , accessed on March 20, 2014
  7. Beckmann, Anett: History of mentality and aesthetic investigations of the sculptural tombs of the Karlsruhe main cemetery. Kit Scientific Publishing, 2006. ISBN 3-86644-032-4
  8. Row grave. on: bestattungen.de
  9. Barbara Happe: Order and Hygiene. Cemeteries in the Enlightenment and the Communalization of the Cemetery System. In: Arbeitsgemeinschaft Friedhof und Denkmal, Museum for Sepulchral Culture: Space for the Dead. Braunschweig 2003, ISBN 3-87815-174-8 , p. 98.
  10. Anonymous grave
  11. Barbara Happe: From the unmarked lawn to the emblematic community area. In: Grave Culture in Germany. Berlin 2009, ISBN 978-3-496-02824-6 , pp. 215-228.
  12. Urn grave
  13. Burial
  14. Stefan Hess : The so-called plague coffin of Mandach - an informative testimony to early modern sepulchral culture . In: Argovia 125 (2013), pp. 124-133.
  16. ^ Legislative process for the law amending the law on cemeteries and funerals in the Free Hanseatic City of Bremen
  17. Law amending the law on cemeteries and funerals in the Free Hanseatic City of Bremen. (No longer available online.) October 14, 2014, archived from the original on March 21, 2015 ; Retrieved April 30, 2015 .
  18. Andreas Maurer: Moment am Sonntag: Of compostable urns and online graves . Ö1 Radio, ORF, April 8, 2018, 6.15 p.m., 45 min.
  19. Types of graves
  20. Evangelical Church in Central Germany (EKM): OFFICIAL SHEET OF THE EVANGELIC CHURCH IN CENTRAL GERMANY. Annex 1 Model cemetery statutes for the cemetery of the Evangelical Church Community / the Evangelical Church Community Association / the Evangelical Cemetery Association * ... From ... www.kirchenrecht-ekm.de, October 15, 2010, accessed on March 19, 2017 : “The depth of the individual graves is from the The surface of the earth (without hill) to the top of the coffin at least 0.90 m, to the top of an urn at least 0.50 m. "
  21. How deep is a coffin buried? bestatterweblog.de, accessed on March 19, 2017 .
  22. CEMETERY OF EISLINGEN / FILS. CEMETERY RULES AND FUNERAL CHARGE. www.eislingen.de, March 16, 2015, accessed on March 19, 2017 : “The depth of the individual graves is 1.80 m for single-deep graves, 2.40 m for double-deep graves, 1.10 m for children's graves and urn graves 0.75 m. "
  23. Wenke Husmann: Aside , honey! "Why, according to the traditional view, does man have to walk to the left of woman?" In: www.zeit.de. July 27, 2007, archived from the original on May 21, 2020 ; accessed on May 21, 2020 .
  24. Katharina Payk: A bottle of schnapps as a grave goods. How we mourn, how we die and how we are buried depends on the question of our social status. Francis Seeck has written an exciting book about exclusion in the cemetery and alternative mourning practices. Katharina Payk met Francis Seeck for an interview. In: www.evangelisch.de. January 23, 2019, accessed on May 21, 2020 : "For example, there is the norm of the double grave - the man is on the right and the woman on the left."