Archaeologists discovered human cremated ashes in Chinese funerary urns as early as 7000 BC. Throughout the centuries since, we’ve come to understand a wide range of burial customs and practices, including cremation.
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In the beginning, urns were simple. Only later did they become more ornate with decoration and design. Urn shapes and sizes changed into what you may now commonly recognize. Though far from exhaustive, many of them are listed below.
Tip: If you're looking for something very unique (think a favorite hobby, their beloved car, or instrument of choice), you can custom order an urn from a store like Foreverence. You submit a design idea or sketch, then the company designs and 3D prints your urn, so you get a 100% unique container.
List of Basic or Traditional Urn Shapes
Box, teardrop, and oval are familiar shape names most people learned about in grade school. But they’ve got some interesting technical names that can help your Internet search go a little easier. So, let’s get familiar with a few of them.
It’s hard to pin down the start of our fascination with the heart shape. Still, people have made hypotheses about its origin dating as far back as the ancient Greek civilization.
No matter where it all began, today, the heart is all about love and affection.
Better known as a teardrop, the dacrocyte is the definitive symbol of suffering and grief.
You’ll find these urns range in size from pendant to keepsake, from small to adult-sized urns. It’s a suitable shape for both humans and pets, with many materials and colors available from which to choose.
Dating back to Mesopotamia, mathematicians have been studying the cube. Today, artisan crafters aren’t devising theorems about them; instead, they’ve modified the standard position so that the cube tilts from a corner instead of sitting flush with a surface.
This slight variation adds an element of modernity, which will work well when on prominent display in your home.
4. Rectangular cuboid
This rectangular-shaped box urn has some other interesting mathematical names, but “rectangular cuboid” seemed like the most reasonable one to share.
Although common in shape, these box urns can come in a great variety of materials, with options for engraving and more.
The cylinder is an everyday shape but isn’t a standard option. It is, however, popular among those who appreciate minimalism, prefer sustainable and green options, or intend to scatter the ashes.
Cylindrical cremation urns are commonly available in pendant and adult sizes. You’ll also have various materials from which to choose.
6. Square cuboid
The square cuboid has two faces that are square while the other sides are rectangular.
Think of it as a cube that’s been cut in half widthwise to make two identical flattened shapes. With an artist's help, a set of two similar companion urns forming a full cube would make a loving tribute to any couple.
The ovoid is a three-dimensional oval (think egg-shaped but flattened on two opposite sides). It’s an unpretentious shape, for sure.
However, add some engraving or make it into a music box, then this modest urn becomes something extraordinary.
8. Birds, bees, butterflies, and flowers
Some creatures and plants in the natural world represent endurance, rebirth, new destinations, or hope.
You’ll readily find them painted or adorning adult-sized urns. However, urns that imitate their shape tend to be found mainly in keepsake or pendant size.
9. Ancient vase shapes
What may look like an ordinary vase shape may have a fascinating history behind it. Vase names like Hydria, Olpe, Psykter, Amphora, and Oinochoe are no longer in the everyday lexicon.
But you’ll soon discover that artists continue to apply these same ancient Greek shapes to today’s cremation vases.
10. Starfish, nautilus, and conch shells
When sea-shore life and living were the hallmarks of a deceased loved one, beautiful marine-inspired keepsake urns can be important reminders of their love and passions. A few specialty sites will lead you to artisan-crafted nautilus and conch shells, but starfish are available in keepsake and pendant sizes.
For green burials at sea, search for scalloped-shaped biodegradable urns.
11. Cowboy boots
As an urn, cowboy boots are both basic and non-traditional shapes.
But let’s keep them in the traditional category because American western culture is synonymous with them. You’ll find these urns cast in bronze and resin and adorned with hats, rope, or flags.
12. Praying and helping hands
Most commonly found in marble and painted resin, hand-shaped urns can be a lovely reminder of faith and values.
One would probably choose this urn for prominent display in a home instead of burial or placement in a columbarium.
Like the praying and helping hands, angel-shaped urns are suitable for home display. One drawback you’ll discover is that there aren’t many variations on the size from which to choose.
However, there are some smaller winged pendant keepsakes if you wish to keep your loved one close.
14. Trees, pinecones, and leaves
If the mountains have called to you, look for earthy representations of them. Pinecones will typically have a three-dimensional profile, while the leaves and trees are generally two-dimensional.
Check out an online marketplace or search through internet images to find one that is suitable for your loved one.
List of Creative or Non-Traditional Urn Shapes
The dialogue on death and grief has been changing in this country. One element of this is artisan-designed urns coming into favor. These artists have evolved their craft. They can design nontraditional sculptures that honor your loved ones like never before.
The shape of the sphere says basic, right? Not in this case. Glass blowers can take a portion of your loved one’s cremains and use their skill to craft beautiful pieces of glass art.
You could commission an entire solar system with the sun and planets, each custom made, to honor the impact someone had on your life.
If there’s an urn that’s both non-traditional and incredibly creative, it’s one that’s pillow-shaped.
These clay pieces exemplify an artist's curiosity and sheer bravery to create something so unique that it's more sculpture than an urn. You can find them in chocolate-colored and Asian-inspired variations.
To explain the torus as a doughnut shape simply does not do it justice, but that’s just what it is.
Still, to craft a perfectly symmetrical wooden ring (with a hole in the middle) takes expert skill in mathematics and woodworking. It’s an extremely rare and uncommon shape for sure.
Ancient cultures believed in polytheism, with deities expressed throughout all aspects of life and death. One of them was Anubis, the Egyptian god of the dead.
His likeness presents itself as the body of a man with the head of a jackal. The cremation urn won’t be a full representation; it’ll be a bust of his head.
19. Hexagonal pyramid
A hexagonal pyramid begins with a hexagonal base. From that base, six isosceles triangles stretch up to meet at a point.
Precision in measurement will be essential for this woodworker, making this urn a creative art piece.
There’s a dreamer in every family. One that lives life to the fullest and without ever setting their feet on the ground. For them, there’s the rocket ship.
You can predominately find rocket ship shapes as pendant urns, but if you search a little harder, you can find a few one-off pieces made from blocks of aluminum.
21. Sun and planets
Sun and revolving planet urns are well-suited for the respected patriarch or matriarch that held their family and community together.
They're a scarce find if you're looking online, so you may want to commission an artist to make one for you instead.
22. Modern rhombus
What makes the rhombus urn unique is how understated the immense creative effort was for the artist.
What seems like a simple shape can become a beautiful design, fitting for the one-of-a-kind loved one, suitable for display inside someone's home.
23. Rock urn
The consumer demand for rock-like urns has increased. Artists can replicate limestone, river rock, and even charcoal into non-traditional and durable rock urns.
Sustainable and biodegradable options call for look-alike rocks to blend into the background and slowly dissolve into the earth over time.
The guitar is a well-loved instrument across many cultures and ages.
But even as standard as its presence in everyday life, it is an unusual and nontraditional choice for an urn. You’ll find they come in two sizes, pendant and ukulele-sized.
To visualize an icosahedron, you’ll first have to imagine a sphere.
That sphere is not smooth and round. Instead, it has twenty identical triangles, each creating a perfectly flat surface area. Creative indeed!
26. Modern art
It is not uncommon to spend a few thousand dollars on a burial or just the casket alone. If that serves as enough justification for you, then purchasing a piece of modern funerary urn art might be ideal for a loved one's cremains.
Whether that's cast copper designs or highly pressurized graphite, if you can imagine it—someone can help you design it.
Traditional Versus Creative Urns
Traditional and familiar urn shapes may seem pretty basic, but once you take a closer look at the histories and stories behind them, they develop new characteristics and meanings.
Creative urns are no different. Yet, what continues to make them both equally as remarkable is the love and joy felt for the lost loved one.
If you're looking to learn more about urns, read our guides on the best urns for dad and Viking urns for ashes.
- History of Cremation. (n.d.). Cremation Association of America. www.cremationassociation.org/page/HistoryOfCremation