The Many Forms of Above-Ground Burial
Humans have a long history of creative memorialization of the dead, frequently involving above-ground burial. The extravagance of some memorials, such as were recently explored on this very site (New Orleans’ “Cities of the Dead” and the history of mausoleums) inspires sincere appreciation of the, er, monumental degree of effort in their execution.
Others, impressive as they may be in character, are just as notable for their human sentiment — for being compelling, or arresting, or imposing, or astonishing, as well as for being permanent fixtures (which may be quite elaborate) of honor (the terra cotta soldier army, the Great Pyramids, the Taj Mahal).
Sometimes big, sometimes humble, sometimes even unoccupied… tomb designs have often been no less than extraordinary.
A Tomb by Any Other Name
The different ways to be memorialized/buried without going into the earth (or even anywhere in the area, as in the case of the cenotaph) take on a multitude of forms, but, the bottom line, most formats fulfill more or less the same function.
Columbaria, of course, with their niches and walls for holding urns, are essentially the more modern take on the mausoleum concept. They also command that real-estate advantage. But classic mausoleums/mausolea (public and private) remain a popular option that never goes out of style, and aren’t likely to be evolved out of circulation (no need to reinvent the wheel, after all).
Unlike the stately sarcophagus, which is so dated you can’t even find someone to take your order for one seriously. That’s just too bad, because the sarcophagus was really interesting – something like a grave liner, something like a coffin, sometimes built for multiple people. They were marked and decorated purposefully: with eyes so the deceased could see to find their way to the afterworld; a door was built in for the soul’s escape; they were labeled with the names and accomplishments of those within, and not only that, were carved to resemble their occupants. Rome and Greek also employed sarcophagi. (In this age of Instagram, I could foresee that one making a comeback.)
And I do feel like receiving vaults should be mentioned, for their appearance at least since they resemble nothing else so much as in-ground mausoleums, though their function isn’t to serve as a place of rest or burial, but rather as a placeholder, waiting in the queue for their plot of land.