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Coffins

Updated on January 14, 2010

Coffin (Latin cophinus, basket or chest), receptacle in which dead bodies are buried. The earliest known use of coffins is in ancient Egypt, where they were made of wood and stone. The Greeks and Romans seem to have used coffins in early periods but later resorted to 'cremation. Greek coffins were of various shapes, and usually made of baked clay; the Roman arcae, or loculi, were frequently made of limestone from the Troad, which was believed to have a corrosive action on the flesh.

The early Christians in Rome always buried their dead in coffins, which were either hewn out of the living rock or formed of sculptured stone. Coffins appear to have been used by other European nations from prehistoric times. They have been found in Scandinavia, both of hollowed tree-trunks and of stone slabs lining the grave. In medieval England the poor seem to have simply buried their dead wrapped in a cloth; but the wealthier people employed tapering stone coffins and occasionally leaden ones. The light wooden coffin now used is of relatively recent origin.

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