When were tombstones first used?
The first tombstones were used by Bushmen and other primitive tribes in Africa. They believed that there were evil spirits living in the bodies of dead people. By placing heavy stones on the graves they hoped to prevent these spirits from rising.
But the marking of graves in some way goes back to very ancient times. The primitive man placed stones or other markings on graves not only to keep the evil spirits from rising but to mark the spot so he could avoid it.
The ancient Greeks used gravestones, and they were usually ornamented with sculpture. The Hebrews marked the graves of the dead with stone pillars. And, of course, the Egyptians marked the places where dead were buried with tombs and pyramids.
Different peoples used different things for this purpose. Some built vaults, others erected tall pillars of ornamented stone. Some marked their graves with simple slabs of wood or stone; others built magnificent shrines and mausoleums.
As Christianity spread, the marking of graves became common. The cross over the grave was the most popular grave mark among Christians.
Decorating graves with flowers and wreaths is a custom that goes back to ancient times, too. The Greeks used wreaths made of gold. During the early days of Christianity, a custom started of making wreaths of ribbon and paper and giving them to the church as a memento of the person who died. These wreaths would be hung around the walls of the church and stay there for years and years.