Cremation is the process of destruction of a corpse (or occasionally an animal carcass) by fire.
Given that most known animals have an extremely high water content, this is not as easy as it might appear, requiring a large source of high temperature heat to achieve conditions under which tissue is reliably destroyed1. Even then, bone can prove remarkably resilient and may remain largely or completely intact at the end of the process.
Depending on culture, cremation may take place in any convenient location, or may have a dedicated facility known as a crematorium (or by other language names such as shmashana).
Into the modern era, cremation is and was accomplished with a pyre - a pile of wood (in almost all cases) onto which the body and any "grave" goods are placed to be burnt. Building a pyre is something of an artform in its own right and if done badly may end up cooking the deceased rather than cremating them. Industrialised, modern cremation tends to use gas-fired ovens for humans - animal carcasses are prone to be incinerated in the furnaces of waste-burning power stations.
Following the cremation, ashes may be collected and stored in an urn, which may in turn by placed in a columbarium. Alternatively they may be scattered, either directly from the place of cremation or later, somewhere else. In low tech methods, this may involve picking through the remains of the pyre for bone fragments - the actual ash will almost certainly be mostly wood.
Game and Story Use
- It's relatively uncommon for a culture to be neutral on cremation - it will generally either be expected or prohibited. Pre-Christian Europe preferred cremation - as does India - Christian Europe took against it for a mixture of reasons (mostly incoherent and/or spurious).
- Where a body really needs to be got rid of for any reason, cremation can be very effective (in terms of preventing the spread of disease or undead). However, as noted above, botching the job is also quite easy if you have to do it in a hurry.