Cremation is the process of subjecting the body to high temperatures so as to reduce it to its basic elements. After cremation, the cremated remains can be stored, interred, or disposed of by scattering on land, water, or air.
This process of reducing the body to ashes, however, is not new. You can get detailed information on cremation at Cremation Resource.
In fact, it has been in existence since ancient times. Archeologists believe that it was invented during the Stone Age around 3000 BC and became prevalent in the Europe and the Near East.
Gradually, it started to grow and spread across the northern Europe and into western Russia by the late Stone Age. In western Russia, archeologists have even discovered decorative urns from the Stone Age.
In the early Bronze Age, it progressed and reached the British Isles and spread across the regions now known as Spain and Portugal.
Between 1000-480 BC, it moved into Greece (became an important ritual in the Grecian burial custom), and proceeded into Rome by 600 BC.
In fact, it became the standard method of disposing of the body and the method of placing the cremated remains in a columbarium emerged.
Thus, the cremated remains were stored in sophisticated cremation urns and placed within columbarium niches.
Early Christians, however, regarded cremation as a pagan ritual. Hence, with the passage of time, the process of cremation was shunned and replaced by earth burial by 400 AD.
So, this practice introduced by the Roman Emperor Constantine, continued for the next 1,500 years throughout Europe.
Therefore, cremations became extremely rare in the Western culture until the 1800s, as they were allowed only in case of emergencies like during war and pestilence.
At www.religioustolerance.org, you can read about the religious views on cremation and burial as per the Bible.
In Asia though, cremation was still popular, especially in areas of Buddhist influence, until the advent of Neo-Confucianism around 1300 AD. You can read more about the cremation history, here.
Nevertheless, during the mid 1800s, cremation began to see a revival in the US and Europe.
Even in 1658, after the Black Death, Sir Thomas Browne of England advocated cremation as an acceptable means of disposing of the dead. He was prompted by the discovery of an Anglo-Saxon cremation urn from the Bronze Age.
Then, in 1769, the first recorded cremation took place in Britain (St George’s Burial Ground, London) as the body of Honoretta Pratt was illegally incinerated in an open grave.
The headstone erected on her grave stated her belief that the vapors arising for the graves in the churchyards were harmful for people and thus, she took this strong step to set an example for others to follow.
Cremation was also encouraged during the French Revolution by the freemasons and anarchists. Next, Professor Brunetti of Italy exhibited his cremation retort at the 1873 Vienna Exposition.
When Sir Henry Thompson, Surgeon to Queen Victoria attended this exhibition, he was encouraged to foster the cremation movement. He founded the Cremation Society of England in 1874.
In North America, too, Dr. Francis LeMoyne made a notable contribution when he built the first crematory in Washington, Pennsylvania in 1876.
In Europe, the first crematories were built in 1878. By 1886, the revival of cremation gained momentum on both sides of the Atlantic.
Due to the gradual increase in the rate of cremations, this practice is no longer considered as an anti-Christian practice. You can find a list of countries by cremation rate, at wikipedia.
Now, people usually choose cremation because it is a simple and less complicated process. Besides, it helps save money and is not harmful for the environment.