Different Ancient Burial Types

Over the millennia since the earliest burial, people have buried their dead in many different ways. Each burial type listed on this page includes descriptions, dates, and images of typical burials.

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Barrow

Pentridge 1 Long Barrow, Dorset UK
Pentridge 1 Long Barrow, Dorset UK. Jim Champion

A barrow is an archaeological term for a specific type of burial mound belonging to the Neolithic period structures in western Europe.

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Rock Cairn near Eigergletscher Station, Switzerland
Rock Cairn near Eigergletscher Station, Switzerland. Andrew Bossi

A cairn is an unmortared pile of rocks, carefully stacked to act as a marker, and sometimes to cover a burial.

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Chullpa at Sillustani, Peru
Chullpa at Sillustani, Peru. Marek Krzystkiewicz

Chullpas are ancient towers, built by Andean societies to house their dead beginning about 1500 years ago. Used as repositories for family members, chullpas also functioned as a focus for ancestor worship, territorial markers and a raft of other purposes, explicit and hidden.

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Built by mobile pastoralists of the first and second millennia BC, khirigsuurs generally consist of a stone mound, surrounded by a square or circular fence of surface stones, but they may be very elaborate and sometimes contain human remains.

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Salbyk Kurgan in Minusinsk Russia
Salbyk Kurgan in Minusinsk Russia. Russian Federation

A kurgan is a type of burial mound built by several groups of the nomadic people of central Asia, the oldest dating to the Bronze Age.

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Craig Mound at Spiro Mounds, Oklahoma
Craig Mound at Spiro Mounds, Oklahoma. Heironymous Rowe

Mounds are a type of monumental architecture built primarily of earth, although they do occasionally have stone or wood foundations and occasionally may have been used to in single or multiple burials.

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Brick-built Jetavana Stupa, 450-680 AD, Anuradhapura
Brick-built Jetavana Stupa, 450-680 AD, Anuradhapura. Arian Zwegers

A stupa is a burial monument built to house some of the ashes of the Buddha. Scattered all over the world where Buddhism is practiced, stupas are typically solid brick domes.

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Jar Burials at the Neolithic Village Site of Banpo, China
Jar Burials at the Neolithic Village Site of Banpo, China. NotLiz

An urnfield cemetery, or jar burial, is a type of secondary burial that involves placing the cremated body of a deceased person into a large jar or urn, within a largely defined cemetery area.