Spade & the Grave

death and burial through an archaeological lens


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Conference Trip: Death & Culture IV, York, UK

There is no such thing as a posting schedule when you’re doing your PhD and running a business part time, and writing a book! I do these things to myself, and it’s great! We have just returned from a trip to the UK, where I presented some of my ongoing research at the Death & Culture IV conference, held at the York St. John Campus in the heart of York. York is definitely one of my favourite cities in the UK that I’ve gotten the chance to spend time in, so returning this fall to meet up with friends and talk about research was a huge treat! The rest of the trip was our honeymoon (belated by covid for 2 years, whoops), and I’ll do a separate post about the death-related things we saw on that trip later on! It was a very eventful trip overall, so lets get into it!

The conference, held every 2 years, was put on by the Death & Culture Network (DaCNet) through the University of York, describes itself as promoting “the continuing engagement with the study of death, and acts as a forum for networking and the sharing of multidisciplinary death scholarship”. I presented my ongoing research on the burial grounds of New Perlican, the mapping that has been carried out through our surveys, and what that can tell us about the burial landscape of the community.

View of Old Town, Edinburgh, Scotland (photo by author 2022)
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Against all Evil: Protective Marks at the Burgess Property, Whiteway, NL

(This would be a great paper title, wouldn’t it? I call it for later!)

Welcome back, readers! It has been quite the hectic summer so far this year, between PhD research, passing my thesis proposal defence at the end of May, gravestone restoration fieldwork, and a quick trip with my dad across Canada in the family van. Just before I flew west though, my husband and I visited the historic Burgess Property in Whiteway, NL. The property was receiving a new heritage plaque in honour of its designated status as a heritage property within the province, and there was a great turnout!

The buildings were constructed between the 1860s and 1900, and the complex includes former sawmill, a stable and store, a root cellar, a fishing stage, and the family home. It was wonderful to finally be able to visit the site and take a look around the structures, but I was there for a very specific reason…apotropaic magic. I know this post isn’t about gravestones per-say, but if you have been a reader for a little while, you’ll know that I’m currently studying and writing a manuscript about the use of protective magic on graves, and these symbols are among the ones we see in both contexts!

The Burgess fish stage (left) on the shore (photo by author 2022)
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PhD Fieldwork 3: Surveying Field Stones at St. Augustine’s Cemetery 1

This week we wrapped up my fieldwork surveying in New Perlican! This part of my project, which I’ve written about a few times already in earlier blog posts, involves using a total station theodolite to survey and record the location of gravestones at historic burial grounds in New Perlican in order to create maps of the sites for the local archives and to use in my dissertation research on the evolution of the burial spaces in a single community over 400 years. You can find those earlier posts here: PhD Fieldwork Part 1, PhD Fieldwork 2, and Burial Ground Mapping.

This last round of surveying (before all the total stations vanished to field schools and Labrador for the summer) took place at St. Augustine’s Cemetery 1, and yes, there is a second one of the same name! Due to the size and complexity (ie: trees) of the site, I decided to record only the field stones at this location. Often overlooked, field stones are locally sourced grave markers that typically don’t have inscriptions but show a lot of importance in burial marking traditions in a community.

The goats (and sheep) of New Perlican visiting us on site (2022)
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Cataloguing Funerals & Burials in Joshua Hempstead’s 18th-Century Diary

The 1678 Hempstead House. Photo from Preservation CT.

Last year, I wrote a blog post about the 17th-century journals of Samuel Sewall, and my work to catalogue all mentions of funerals and burials that he recorded during the 17th and early 18th centuries. Now that my comps are completed and passed (woo!), and a draft of my thesis proposal has been sent off for comments, I can get back into a bit of research for my dissertation…and blog about it as I go.

To refresh your memory, part of my research into the development of 17th-century burial grounds in the colonial northeast of North America is to explore details of how people were being buried in these spaces. By doing so, we can gain a better understanding of how funerals and burials were being carried out at the time, how people were using the spaces, and how these practices have changed through the decades and centuries.

This is my second diary analysis, and it was also written by a Puritan. Joshua Hempstead (1676-1758) of New London, Connecticut, was a shipwright, carpenter, and gravestone carver / letterer, who is most well known today for the extensive diary he kept between 1711 until 1758. Available online through Archive.org HERE, the diary is an extensive document, over 700 pages, detailing life in the early 18th century in a New England community. While it is a bit beyond the main scope of my project, I thought it would be important to look at examples from the turn of the century as well, for comparison. For those in death studies in this region, Hempstead is well known for his gravestones, especially in the New London area where he was also responsible for constructing many coffins. Due to the many hats he wore in the community, and in direct involvement in death care, Hempstead’s diary offer an exciting look at burials in the period.

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Death on the Screen: Taboo, Ep. 1 & 19th Century Burials

The TV show Taboo, beginning in 1814 London, was created by Steven Knight, Tom Hardy, and Chips Hardy. Airing in 2017 originally with a second season rumoured, the show has just arrived on Canadian Netflix, so we’ve just started in. Why am I writing about a gritty long-18th century set TV program, you may be wondering? Well, one of the first scenes in the first episode involves a funeral. It was an excellent example of the impact that research can have on a television show, to really portray the life and death that people lead during the period, through the accurate display of all aspects of their daily lives, funerals included.

Screen capture of funeral procession in Taboo, Episode 1.
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Why Cemeteries are Worth Visiting: An Essay

Hello readers, its been a minute! Since I last wrote a blog post, I have finished and passed my comprehensive exams, searched for and moved into a new apartment with my husband and our cats, and have spent the last 6 weeks working on my thesis proposal, writing my manuscript, and doing a bunch of other bits including a quick trip out to New Perlican for a little field visit.

Today, I wanted to talk about why cemeteries (and burial grounds, and graveyards) are worth visiting, in my opinion as a person who has always been fascinated with them as historic sites, and as an archaeologist who has focused the majority of my research career on death and burial as a part of human existence. I was inspired to write this post after attending a talk yesterday by my friend and colleague Lee Sulkowska, a PhD Candidate in history at Deakin University in Australia, whose research explores how cemeteries are a mirror of the society that created them through fascinating archival case studies. Her talk was in support of Ukraine (tickets were donated to humanitarian aid) through the Instytut Dobrej Śmierci, or the Institute of the Good Death in Poland. After the talk, author Loren Rhodes was telling us about her upcoming book, “Death’s Garden Revisited: Personal Relationships with Cemeteries” and it had me thinking about what stands out about burial spaces to me, both as a person and a researcher. This post is more of a personal essay than a research post, but I wanted to share it all the same.

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The Comprehensive Exams of a PhD Student during a Global Pandemic

Subtitle: “Doing a PhD during the pandemic is pretty weird sometimes

Hello readers, happy 2022! It’s been quiet over here on Spade & the Grave as I took about a month off from looking at my laptop, after spending the entire fall working on my comprehensive exams. As I was tweeting or talking about my comps to various group chats and platforms, many people asked me what the process is, so I thought I’d write about that today!

St. Mark’s Cemetery, New Perlican (Lacy 2021)

In most universities in North America, our PhD programs involve taking courses and comprehensive exams of some form before being considered a ‘candidate’ and being able to move forward with our program, and are 4-years minimum. This differs significantly from programs in Europe and Australia (and probably other places, I’m not sure) where the typical PhD program is 3-years, with an additional 4th for writing sometimes.

My program so far has looked like this:

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The Old Burial Ground, Fredericton, NB

This is an exciting post, friends! As you may or may not have seen on the news this summer(maybe only if you live in the Atlantic provinces in Canada), I have been working with the City of Fredericton as a consultant on the Old Burial Ground in the heart of Fredericton, since August 2020. The City is working on the long-term restoration and preservation of the historic burial site, and this involves exploring the gravestones housed on the grounds and what can be done to help them last a little while longer.

That is where I came in!

Gates to the Old Burial Ground, downtown Fredericton, NB (Photo by author 2021)
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Burial Ground Mapping in New Perlican: Total Stations & Gravestones

If you’ve been a reader for more than a minute, you might already know that some of my PhD research is taking place in the outport community of New Perlican. Well, I’m currently working on my second comps paper, and that means it’s time to write another blog post to let some of that writing energy go somewhere, now that I’ve met my page goal for the day!

Today I wanted to share the maps that were made for my project by my colleague Bryn, who is a mapper extraordinary and taught myself and Ian how to use the total station theodolite (TST or total station) ((which is something I need to remember finally, rather than re-learning every time I need to use one)). The benefit of using the total station to record the gravestones is that not only are they geo-referenced within cm’s accuracy, but it allowed us to create accurate maps of the gravestones for the community to have on record in their archives.

Bloody Point grave marker 1, BP1 (Lacy 2021). This is an excellent example of a rough fieldstone.
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Gravestone Bases: Conservation & Sinking Stones

“Creative” writing is a good break from comps writing, right? Right. This might not be creative writing, but it’s a good flow to get those typing juices flowing while still keeping my head in the game! What is the game, you might ask? It’s gravestones. It’s always gravestones.

Today I wanted to chat to you all today about the construction of historic gravestones below the ground, getting to my archaeological roots subsurface, and how historical gravestone construction methods differ from what we see today, aka too much or too little. Let’s dig in! (hah)

St. John the Evangelist Church, Coley’s Point, NL (photo by author 2021)
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