The History of the Coffin

Although death is a universal experience, the customs and traditions related to it are not. Still, one object has been commonly associated with death and burial across various cultures for thousands of years: the coffin. 

The coffin, in one form or another, has been used throughout history to transport and preserve the deceased. Let’s explore the history and cultural significance of the coffin and see how this object evolved.

The history of the coffin

The Stone Coffin

The roots of the coffin as a burial object can be traced back to the Neolithic period. During this time, burials consisted of simple stone boxes.

Over time, these boxes became more elaborate, and artists started carving intricate designs into their lids. 

In ancient Egypt, people paid particular attention to the coffins and sarcophagi. They believed the soul could only reach the afterlife with proper preservation. So, they developed an elaborate system of mummification and decorated the coffin with images depicting the deceased’s journey through the afterlife.

Sturdy and long-lasting, the stone continues to be a popular choice in funerary practices today, especially for mausoleums.

The Slip Coffin

Before the 17th century, coffins were a mark of social status. As such, only noble people received coffin burials. Those who weren’t lucky enough to belong to higher classes received transportation to the cemetery in a reusable coffin. Afterward, the coffin was returned to the church.

The Wooden Coffin

Although wood has been used for coffins throughout history, the Civil War marks the official start of mass-produced wooden coffins. The demand arose from the thousands of fallen soldiers that needed a proper burial.

These coffins were mostly simple, as the emphasis was on functionality. However, some deceased soldiers of a higher rank were buried in ornate coffins made of high-quality wood.

The Iron Coffin

The iron coffin was first created in the 19th century by a stove designer Almond Dunbar Fisk. The catalyst for the creation of this coffin was the death of Fisk’s brother William. At the time, coffins were still not widely used. There was no way to return the bodies of the deceased who passed away during travels to their families for a proper burial.

Fisk changed this tragic fact by creating an airtight coffin that could preserve the body even in the hottest weather and transport it long distances. He received a patent for his creation in 1848, the first of its kind. 

The Safety Coffin

After Fisk’s patent, many new creations followed suit. Arguably the most interesting period of coffin creation started in 1868 with a patent for an “improved burial case.” This creation resulted from a prevalent fear people had at the time: being buried alive. Coffin makers had various designs that allowed the interred to set themselves free if it turned out they hadn’t actually died. The trend was short-lived, fading away once medicine advanced enough to determine if a person was, without a doubt, deceased.

The Metal Coffin

The production of metal coffins in the U.S. began in 1918. Shortly before World War II, these coffins were mass-produced as a more cost-effective alternative to the wooden coffin. Besides being more cost-effective than their wooden counterparts, these coffins also:

  • Lasted longer
  • Could be transported long distances
  • Could be sealed better

The Return to Nature

There has recently been a renewed interest in wooden coffins, which are seen as the most environmentally friendly option. Many people view wooden coffin burials as returning to nature.

This line of thought also popularized the tree burial. In a tree burial, the deceased is placed in a biodegradable urn or an organic burial pod instead of a traditional coffin. They are then buried in a restored meadow or woodland with a memorial tree often marking their gravesite.

Whether you choose a traditional burial, a mausoleum, or a green burial, the Hollywood Forever cemetery can be a dignified final resting place for you or a loved one.


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