Standing stone tablet used in the ancient world primarily as a grave marker but also for dedication, commemoration, and demarcation. Though the stele's origin is unknown, a stone slab was commonly used as a tombstone in Egypt, Greece, Asia, and the Mayan empire. In Babylon, the Code of Hammurabi was engraved on a tall stele. The largest number of stelae were produced in Attica, chiefly as grave markers. The dead were represented on the stelae as they were in life: men as warriors or athletes, women surrounded by their children, and children with their pets or toys.
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A stele (from Greek: στήλη, stēlē, ; plural: stelae, στῆλαι, stēlai, ; also found: Latinised singular stela and Anglicised plural steles) is a stone or wooden slab, generally taller than it is wide, erected for funerals or commemorative purposes, most usually decorated with the names and titles of the deceased or living — inscribed, carved in relief (bas-relief, sunken-relief, high-relief, etc), or painted onto the slab.
Unfinished standing stones, set up without inscriptions from Libya in North Africa to Scotland were monuments of pre-literate Megalithic cultures in the Late Stone Age. The Pictish stones of Scotland, often intricately carved, date from between the 6th and 9th centuries.
In 1489, 1512, and 1663 CE, the Kaifeng Jews of China left these stone monuments to preserve their origin and history. Despite repeated flooding of the Yellow River, destroying their synagogue time and time again, these stelae survived to tell their tale.
An obelisk is a specialized kind of stele. The Insular high crosses of Ireland and Britain are specialized stelae. Likewise, the Totem pole of North and South America is a type of stelae. Gravestones with inscribed epitaph are also kinds of stelae.
Most recently, in the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe in Berlin, the architect Peter Eisenman created a field of some 2,700 blank stelae. The memorial is meant to be read not only as the field, but also as an erasure of data that refer to memory of the Holocaust.