The 3 Main Kinds of Burial Site Memorials and How They Differ

Memorial parks are an integral part of popular culture. The crosses at Arlington National Cemetery, the creeping vines on crumbling monuments in the South, and the stones that mark famous gravesites find their way into myriad films and television shows.

You probably have a mental collection of memorial park images nearer and dearer as well.

Memorial parks use a variety of tributes to provide closure to families and respect to those interred there. Most feature a mix of four main types of tributes. Below we explain the specifications of each and how they differ from each other.


Most memorials incorporate an inscription, carved or etched into the material. Typical inscriptions may include any of the following information about the deceased:

  • Birth and death date
  • Favorite quote, saying, scripture passage, or song verse
  • Military rank and affiliation
  • Name

Inscriptions may also incorporate symbols, including religious icons and other types of imagery.


1. Headstones

Headstones are the most traditional-and most common-type of memorial. Headstones may mark individual graves or may pay tribute to multiple members of a family buried on the same plot.


Headstones rise upright from the ground. This makes their inscriptions easy to see, even at a slight distance. Artisans may shape the stone in a square, rectangular, or slightly rounded manner.

Most headstone inscriptions appear only on one side of the stone. The inscription may incorporate carvings of multiple depths to create detailed images.


Artisans typically use granite for headstones. This stone is strong and durable. It also comes in a wide range of colors, allowing for a large amount of personalization. Colors include gray, pink, blue, and white.

You may also choose a range of other materials for headstones. Common options include:

  • Metals-stainless steel, bronze, white bronze, etc.
  • Stone-slate, marble, cement, sandstone, fieldstone, etc.

In past eras, people also chose headstones in wood or cast iron. Unfortunately, these materials cannot withstand the elements and may rot or rust.

2. Markers

Grave markers are becoming increasingly common. They represent a simple alternative to traditional headstones that conserves space in a memorial park.


Grave markers lie parallel to the ground. In some cases, artisans install them with a slight upward tilt to make the inscription easier to make out. Most grave markers have a rectangular shape and accommodate about the same size of inscription as a small- to mid-size headstone.


Grave markers typically appear in granite or a durable metal. The techniques used to inscribe the images or words on its surface are typically what set each marker apart.

3. Monuments

While less frequently seen than headstones and grave markers, most memorial parks feature a few monuments.


Technically, monuments are simply large-scale headstones. However, most monuments reject the traditional headstone shape. Common monument shape designs include:

  • Animals-lions, sphinxes, lambs, etc.
  • Religious figures-angels, Catholic saints, the Virgin Mary, etc.
  • Symbolic shapes-obelisks, pyramids, etc.

Not all monuments reflect a specific shape. Some are oversized headstones with the design carved on its surface in relief.

Monuments incorporate an inscription on the base or on a flat side of the design. This ensure visitors can read the inscription in spite of the height or magnitude of the monument itself.


Most artisans rely on strong, hard stone for these designs. Because monuments have more surface area, weak materials would break down faster than they would in a headstone or marker.

Granite and marble are conventional materials choices. Because each natural slab of granite and marble includes different coloration and patterning, this enhances the individuality of the monument.

For large-scale, public memorial monuments, such as the war memorials at the National Mall in Washington D.C., artisans opt for metal instead. These materials are easier to work with on such a big scale.

The appropriate memorial is one that honors the deceased, provides a respectful image and graceful resting place, and fits within the grieving family’s budget. While some memorial parks may pose restrictions on certain types or sizes of memorial, only you can make the final decision about how to best lay your loved one to rest.

In addition to the burial site memorial, you may find closure and hope by creating a public tribute to your loved one’s life by way of a memory garden, charitable donation, or online memorial site. For tribute ideas that can help you through the grieving process and give you active ways to serve those around you, read our blog on choosing a memorial that lasts (

If you are struggling to find the right way to honor a loved one, speak with a provider of funeral services. They tend to offer each of the options listed above so you can find the perfect way to celebrate your loved one’s life for years to come.

For more information about funerary services, memorials, and the grieving process, browse our other blog articles (

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *