Spade & the Grave

death and burial through an archaeological lens


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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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Gravestone Conservation & Social Media: Benefits and Challenges of the Online Dissemination of Gravestone Cleaning

Hi everyone, this is a blog post version of the talk I gave at the Death, Dying, & Disposal 15 conference this past week (#DDD15). It was my very first DDD conference, and while digital, I was very excited to attend! Digital conferences are exhausting and maybe not as easy for networking or getting together in the ways that traditional in person conferences have been, but they really open attendance doors for people who might not be able to travel around the world for talks every year! I presented from St. John’s, Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada, on the traditional territory of the Beothuk and Mi’kmaq people, and acknowledge their ownership of the land and my place here as a settler.

My talk was titled “Gravestone Conservation & Social Media: Benefits and Challenges of the Online Dissemination of Gravestone Cleaning”. If you know of any other examples of gravestone cleaning online that you’d like to share with me, I’d love to see them!

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PhD Fieldwork 2: Graveyard Tours & NLAS talks

Back for another research blog instalment! The past few weeks have been pretty busy, with Black Cat projects, some comps reading, a camping trip and hiking in Gros Morne, getting my 2nd covid vaccine, and my parents coming out to visit. We still managed to sneak in a little community archaeology engagement though, which turned out to be sort of a conjuncture between the NLAS (Newfoundland and Labrador Archaeology Society) ((I’m the VP this year)) and my own research in New Perlican.

The town of New Perlican was holding their annual Heritage Day this past Saturday, and the NLAS went down with our museum in a box / ‘edukit’ to talk to anyone interested about archaeology in the province. I was also asked to give a short tour and talk about the Bloody Point burial site, which is part of my PhD research! Check HERE and HERE if you need to get caught up on the site! It was an amazing day, and I’m excited to share it with you all!

Looking towards New Perlican from the road to Bloody Point (photo by author 2021)
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PhD Fieldwork Part 1: Surveying Burial Grounds in New Perlican, NL

I survived my first week back in the field! This past week was the first week of my PhD fieldwork and I could not be more excited to share it with all of you! I find blogging about my fieldwork and research as a go a really good way to gather my thoughts about the process, as well as share all of that with you, dear readers, who may not be archaeologists or know what goes into archaeological research.

My fieldwork this week involved surveying some of the historical burial grounds in New Perlican. Part of what I’m interested in exploring in my PhD research is the development and changes to the burial landscape within a community. New Perlican has been the home of settlers for about 400 years, and I will be exploring how their burial spaces changed and evolved with the community through the years! Part of that work is recording and mapping the older burial grounds themselves, taking stock of the gravestones that are in each site, the styles, how the community used and related to the sites.

Most of that analysis is for later though, this week was the mapping itself! Buckle in folks, this could be a long one.
(all photos in this post were taken by me)

View from the Hefford Plantation (photo by author 2021)
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Site Visit to Bloody Point, New Perlican, NL

Another summer, another field season! While I couldn’t really write much last summer in the field, because I was working in CRM in Ontario, this year I’m back in Newfoundland doing my own research. You know what that means…updates from the field, as far as the eye can see! I’m really looking forward to getting back to some research surveys rather than just digging test pits as fast as possible in the sun (as important as CRM is).

Today myself and my husband Ian joined my supervisor Dr. Shannon Lewis-Simpson in the outport community of New Perlican, in Trinity Bay. If you’ve been following my blog for a while, you might remember when I did work at one of the cemeteries in New Perlican in 2017 (you can find those posts HERE and HERE). Part of my dissertation research for PhD is looking at the development of the burial landscape in New Perlican, which has been settled by European settlers since the 17th century, and how those burial spaces changed in relation to the settlement and the churches through the centuries to today. Today’s trip, however, was just to visit the site of the Bloody Point cemetery…a site which we suspect could date to the 17th century!

Beautiful fishing stages in New Perlican harbour (photo by Ian Petty 2021)
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Cataloguing Funerals & Burials from Samuel Sewall’s 17th-Century Diary

Samuel Sewall (image from the New England Historical Society)

If you’ve been a reader for the last year or two, you’ll know that I’m currently working on my PhD in historical archaeology at Memorial University of Newfoundland & Labrador! My research is looking at the development of the 17th-century burial landscape in northeast North America, and through the centuries in the outport community of New Perlican, NL. Part of this research involves combing through accounts from the 17th century for details on death, burial, and funeral practices at the time. This information gives us a better idea of how the burial grounds were being used, what people thought of them, and how they changed through the decades and centuries.

Now, I’m only 9 months into my program and have just finished my coursework a few weeks ago, so I don’t have too much of my own research finished yet, but other than lining up some fieldwork and preparing for my comprehensive exams this fall (eep!), I’ve been cataloguing mentions of burials and funerals in the diary of Samual Sewall. Judge Sewall, a public figure and later known for his involvement in the Salem witch trials of May, 1893 (for which he later publicly apologised, so that’s nice), kept a diary of his life fairly regularly from 1674 – 1729, one year before his death. Many Puritans kept detailed diaries and Sewall is no exception. Due to his importance in the community as an educated judge and printer, he was very aware of the community and recorded deaths beyond his own family.

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When Repairs Fail: Maurice Baker’s Gravestone

An unfortunate part of gravestone conservation and care is that sometimes it doesn’t always stand the test of time. This could be because the repair wasn’t strong enough, or the stone had been disturbed in some way after the repair took place. Perhaps it was bumped by a deer or a lawnmower, or someone leaned on the stone, or the ground shifted and gravity took over. Regardless of the reason, we can learn a lot about conservation and repair when the stone falls, and learn from the experience.

Today I want to talk about the repair and fall of one of the largest simple gravestones I’ve ever seen, that of Maurice Baker at Woodland Cemetery, London, Ontario.

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