Dating skeletal remains
The use of ossuaries is a longstanding tradition in the Orthodox Church.
The remains of an Orthodox Christian are treated with special reverence, in conformity with the biblical teaching that the body of a believer is a "temple of the Holy Spirit" (1 Corinthians , etc.), having been sanctified and transfigured by Baptism, Holy Communion and the participation in the mystical life of the Church.
A body is first buried in a temporary grave, then after some years the skeletal remains are removed and placed in an ossuary.
The greatly reduced space taken up by an ossuary means that it is possible to store the remains of many more people in a single tomb than if the original coffins were left as is.
The Catacombs of Paris represents another famous ossuary.
The catacombs beneath the Monastery of San Francisco in Lima, Peru, also contains an ossuary.
Some of the limestone ossuaries that have been discovered, particularly around the Jerusalem area, include intricate geometrical patterns and inscriptions identifying the deceased.
Among the best-known Jewish ossuaries of this period are: an ossuary inscribed 'Simon the Temple builder' in the collection of the Israel Museum, another inscribed 'Elisheba wife of Tarfon', one inscribed 'Yehohanan ben Hagkol' that contained an iron nail in a heel bone suggesting crucifixion, another inscribed 'James son of Joseph, brother of Jesus', the authenticity of which is opposed by some and strongly supported by others, and ten ossuaries recovered from the Talpiot Tomb in 1980, several of which are reported to have names from the New Testament.
If there is reason to believe that the departed is a saint, the remains may be placed in a reliquary; otherwise the bones are usually mingled together (skulls together in one place, long bones in another, etc.).
In Persia, the Zoroastrians used a deep well for this function from the earliest times (c.
3,000 years ago) and called it astudan (literally, "the place for the bones").
The departed will be buried for one to three years and then, often on the anniversary of death, the family will gather with the parish priest and celebrate a parastas (memorial service), after which the remains are disinterred, washed with wine, perfumed, and placed in a small ossuary of wood or metal, inscribed with the name of the departed, and placed in a room, often in or near the church, which is dedicated to this purpose.
During the time of the Second Temple, Jewish burial customs included primary burials in burial caves, followed by secondary burials in ossuaries placed in smaller niches of the burial caves.