The intact or cremated remains of people may be interred in a grave, commonly referred to as burial, or in a tomb, an "above-ground grave" (resembling a sarcophagus), a mausoleum, columbarium, niche, or other edifice. In Western cultures, funeral ceremonies are often observed in cemeteries. These ceremonies or rites of passage differ according to cultural practices and religious beliefs. Modern cemeteries often include crematoria, and some grounds previously used for both, continue as crematoria as a principal use long after the interment areas have been filled.
Taforalt cave in Morocco is the oldest known cemetery in the world. It was the resting place of at least 35 Iberomaurusian individuals, the bulk of which have been dated to 15,100 to 14,000 years ago.
Neolithic cemeteries are sometimes referred to by the term "grave field". They are one of the chief sources of information on ancient and prehistoric cultures, and numerous archaeological cultures are defined by their burial customs, such as the Urnfield culture of the European Bronze Age.
From about the 7th century, European burial was under the control of the Church and could only take place on consecrated church ground. Practices varied, but in continental Europe, bodies were usually buried in a mass grave until they had decomposed. The bones were then exhumed and stored in ossuaries, either along the arcaded bounding walls of the cemetery, or within the church under floor slabs and behind walls.
In most cultures those who were vastly rich, had important professions, were part of the nobility or were of any other high social status were usually buried in individual crypts inside or beneath the relevant place of worship with an indication of their name, date of death and other biographical data. In Europe this was often accompanied with a depiction of their coat of arms.