Skip to main content Skip to Search Box
Summary Article: coffin
from The Columbia Encyclopedia

closed receptacle for a corpse. Its purpose is usually to protect and to aid preservation of the body, although in the past some have believed that it may confine the spirit of the deceased. Bark, skins, and mats were commonly used in primitive societies to wrap the body prior to burial. Peoples living near rivers or oceans often buried their dead in canoes, and hollowed oak coffins have been found in the Bronze Age barrow. The Chaldaeans and the early Greeks enclosed a corpse in clay, sealing the coffin by firing it. The largest known stone coffins (see sarcophagus) are Egyptian. Wood and papier-mâché were also used in Egypt for mummy chests. Coffins lined with metal, usually lead, came into use in the Middle Ages. Most coffins used in the Western world today are made of elm or oak and are lined with bronze, copper, lead, or zinc.

The Columbia Encyclopedia, © Columbia University Press 2018

Related Articles

Full text Article Coffin (Cof-fin)
Encyclopedia of Vampire Mythology

Variations: Casket, Kophinos, Pall The words coffin and casket are often used interchangeably, but in truth they are two different things. Strictly

Full text Article coffin
Word Origins

[14 century] Greek kóphinus meant ‘basket’. It passed via Latin cophinus into Old French, where it split into two words. Cofin came to...

Full text Article Coffin
Brewer's Dictionary of Phrase and Fable

Coffin nail A cigarette. An expression in use long before the association between cigarette smoking and lung cancer was recognized but probably c

See more from Credo