Spade & the Grave

death and burial through an archaeological lens

Return to the Rock: PhD Research Outline!


Hi friends, it’s been too long since I’ve written a post! Hope everyone is washing their hands and staying out of large gatherings during this ol’ covid-19 outbreak we’re all dealing with. Also you don’t need that much tp, friends. Ok, since coming back from Boston in January, I’ve started a new position with a local CRM firm, TMHC, as their archaeological, cultural heritage, and social media technician! It’s been amazing so far, and I can’t wait for the field season to start! If you follow me on social media though (or, you know, read the title of this post) then you’ll know I’ve had another big thing happen in the last few months…I’ve been accepted into Memorial University of Newfoundland’s PhD program for Archaeology, which starts Sept 2020!


I decided I wanted to do a PhD because my favourite part of archaeology besides the excavation is the research & the writing. I really love writing up results, explaining the thoughts behind doing specific things, digging into the backgrounds, and learning about how people operated in the past. Since finishing my MA in 2017, I’ve been continuing my research and writing on my own time, published 2 papers, have been working on a manuscript, and have another project up my sleeves, along with giving some public talks and stuff….and that takes a lot of time! What better way to balance all this free work than diving back into a PhD where all this research I’m already doing can move to the forefront of my priorities? I’m really excited to focus more of my energy on this research.


The author with a cemetery sign, 2018.

I wanted to talk a little bit today about what my proposed research is about. If you haven’t been following me for a while, this research is a major expansion of some of the work I did during my MA, which examined the spatial relationship between British settler burial ground and settlement organisation on the east coast of North America and Newfoundland. If you are for some reason interested in reading that thing, it is linked under my publications (or wait for my book to come out!). My PhD research builds on my MA in that I am going to be continuing my exploration of the spatial organization of burial grounds, but more involved.


Ice pack in St. John’s harbour, 2017

For my doctoral research, I will examine burial traditions and the organization of burial landscapes in 17th-century British and French settlements, and potentially Dutch sites depending on…the size of the project, really! I’ll be looking at sites from Virginia north to Nova Scotia, and the island of Newfoundland as well. I aim to expand the current understanding of colonial development through burial practices on three scales; international, regional, and, local. 

  • International: My research will expand on my MA project, exploring settlements in England and Ireland where we know large groups of settlers emigrated, in the approximately 100 years leading up to the 17th century colonial migration. In doing so, I’ll look for potential influences on British burial ground traditions in a North American context.
  • Regional: On a regional scale, I will compare British burial landscapes to French (& maybe Dutch) colonial settlements within the same regions. These data will be collected and analysed in SPSS in order to look into the popularity of burial locations between settlements, to examine differences in national burial practices.
  • Local: On a local scale, I will be working burial spaces in the community of New Perlican, Newfoundland, to research of the evolution of the colonial burial landscape in a relatively isolated location from the 17th century through to the contemporary burial ground within the community.  This aspect of the project will allow me to understand the changing relationship with mortality within a single colonial settlement over nearly 400 years.

Basically, I’ll be asking the following questions: ‘What factors of British towns and villages in the 15th and 16th centuries affected the layout of colonial British settlements in the 17th century?; How did colonial burial practices and landscapes evolve during and after the 17th century in North America between British, French, and Dutch settlements?; and, What changes do we see in burial placement in communities from the 17th centuries to the 19th centuries, and how does this reflect the evolving relationships with mortality?’

That is a really brief summary of what I’ll e up to, but needless to say, I’m really excited about the prospect of diving into this project! I’ve spend the last few years exploring some of my side projects and preparing my MA research into a manuscript (which was just sent back to my publisher, you guys! We’re getting there!), and I’m excited to have the chance to research full time for a few years in a few months!


Cemetery near Petty Harbour, NL.

That all being said, the decision to go back to school was a hard one, especially after starting a really exciting new job that I adore! I definitely agonised about it for a few weeks, but ultimately my heart is in my research, and the longer you stay out of university the harder it is to go back, so I’m going to take that leap and devote some years to my research. I’ve got some side projects brewing, and am really excited to do this work and then dive back into the workforce! There are some cool things in store in Newfoundland, including some plans to get involved with gravestone restoration!

Of course, throughout my entire research project I’ll be continuing to preach the good word of being death positive, visiting loads of local burial grounds, chatting to people at parties about their funeral plans, and generally getting out there (more) as a mortuary archaeologist!

If you have any questions about my research, cool gravestones you want me to see, please drop me a comment!

Author: Robyn S. Lacy

Archaeologist / Cultural Heritage / Burial Ground Restoration

2 thoughts on “Return to the Rock: PhD Research Outline!

  1. How did the British burial landscape evolve?


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