Spade & the Grave

death and burial through an archaeological lens


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You’ve gotta hand it to them: A Look at Limb Graves

Possible limb gravestone at Malew Churchyard, near Castletown, Isle of Man (photo by author, 2011).

Today’s post topic came to me in a dream. The other night I dreamt that I was doing a public education event somewhere, and that I was teaching kids about the grave of a man who lost his leg. Rather than giving the limb over to the doctors, he felt that this piece of himself deserved a proper burial, gravestone and all! I showed the kids a photo of the gravestone that had a strange wood umbrella behind it…and because this was a dream, I also had a cream highlighter stick that I would twist up and show the carved wood umbrella on the stick. Maybe it was branding? I’m not sure, it was a weird dream, but I woke up determined to tell you all about one of my favourite burial quirks: Limb Burials.

The idea of wanting to preserve or honour one’s amputated body parts, whether they were removed for one’s health or as the result of an act of violence, is not a new one. You may have heard of the woman a few years ago who had the bones from her own foot preserved and re-articulated after amputation? (There are human bones in that link, warning) That’s an extreme example, but very cool! The more common option was to have an actual burial, gravestone and all.

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Spade & the Grave x Archaeology Now: Tiny Lecture Series

Hello readers, I hope you are having a lovely weekend and first day of spring! Here in Newfoundland, the snow is still sticking around but I can see the walkway outside my door again, so we may be getting close to actual spring weather. As much as I like the winter, I am looking forward to not scraping the car off in the morning or struggling to clear a path to the door through snow that is already turning into ice blocks. Also, with warmer weather comes the hopeful inching closer of the field season (covid restrictions permitting). Everyone wear your masks and wash your hands, so my colleagues and I can stomp around graveyards and dig holes (not in the graveyards), please!

I haven’t had much to blog about recently, as I am in the last couple weeks of my PhD coursework! Hard to believe that this part of my degree program is nearly finished! I’ve been working on outlining the topics and questions for my comprehensive exams this semester, writing little sections on my manuscript every week, sprucing up the NLAS website (please go check us out!), and working on another little project that is soooo cool, but I can’t share yet! Get excited though, it’s going to rule.

A few weeks ago, however, I got the chance to work with ‘Archaeology Now‘! Archaeology Now is a:

Houston-based affiliate of a nationwide organization—the Archaeological Institute of America. [They] were founded in 1967 by Dominique De Menil, Philip Oliver Smith, and Walter Widrig. Today, we present an ambitious series of events for the public focused on our many stories through time. [Their mission is to] promotes awareness and appreciation of world cultures through archaeology.

I was invited to film an episode for their ‘Tiny Lecture Series’ for their youtube channel, about my book project on hexfoils and other protective symbols in a mortuary context for Berghahn Books. After a few trial runs with weird lighting, we made the video below, which I am super happy to share with you all. I hope you enjoy the finished lecture that I filmed in the middle of our entryroom / library, and know that between all takes, my cats were climbing the bookshelves, sitting on the chair with the tripod on it and making it all vibrate while scratching themselves, and yelling at me in confusing! Also, there are hexfoils!


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CBC Article: This archeologist has made it her life’s work to preserve decaying history in N.L.’s cemeteries

A handful of weeks ago, before the latest alert level 5 lockdown here in Newfoundland, I had the opportunity to meet with CBC contributor Andie Bulman to discuss my PhD research and our new little business, Black Cat Cemetery Preservation. It was wonderful to chat with her, and as any research knows, I loved the opportunity to talk about my research!

The article, which opens with an image of me working at Woodland Cemetery in London, Ontario in 2019, discusses my PhD research on burial grounds, concerns with gravestone conservation, and what we hope to accomplish with our (mine and my husband Ian’s) business. It’s a wonderful platform that I am so grateful to have, and I hope the message gets spread far and wide!

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PhD in a Pandemic: The First Few Months

It’s a strange time to be reading about death, I’ll just start with that thought.

When I planned my PhD project, in the spring/summer of 2019, covid-19 wasn’t on our radar and I was happily planning our move back to Newfoundland for the later summer of 2020. After the January 2020 SHA conference in Boston, where there were undoubtedly some people with covid in the city at that point, things began to go downhill. Among other things (replanning our wedding, for one), we had to examine when or if moving was going to happen. How do you start a PhD online, in a different province? How do you focus? And how, I wondered, do I read about death in the news and in my research everyday? How do you talk about your research while people are suffering loss around you?

It’s harder to focus, that’s for sure. It’s harder to keep up with those emails from students and profs, class demands, blog contacts (please don’t stop them, just bare with me re response times!), the dishes and vacuuming, settling that anxiety creeping in, reading for fun, etc. Everything feels like a lot, for everyone, and slowing ourselves down is definitely not a bad thing during this time. I’ve seen loads online about people bragging about being so productive in lockdown, but please don’t listen to them. My book was published in 2020, and that’s not a productivity brag, just the publishing timeline (I didn’t work on it much beyond approving proofs in 2020). Working on research soothes me a little, keeps my restless hands doing something via typing since knitting too long aggravates my fieldwork-injured trigger finger/claw fingers now (archaeology, right?).

I write about death, and people are dying of more than just a scary new virus everyday. In 1628, Sir. George Calvert wrote a letter about half of the settlers at Ferryland being struck down by an unnamed illness. The colony must have been terrified, and those who were not sick had to shoulder extra work while also taking care of the sick. I talk about death and burial, as a universally experienced part of life, but our generation has never experienced anything like this. We are building the tools to survive through a pandemic, and hearing about what happened in historic situations helps a little, I think. A world-changing pandemic is certainly not how I thought I’d start my PhD program, and it’s come with learning a lot of new ways to relax and step away from stressors, academic and world alike.

I’m excited to get into 2021 and hopefully it will become more uneventful as we go. I’m looking forward to fieldwork, prepping for comps, working more on my second book, and hopefully seeing friends and family again soon! Do what you need to get through. As Dr. Fitzpatrick said in the covid briefing last night, Hold Fast, Newfoundland & Labrador.


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“Discussing Gravestone Conservation Digitally: Disseminating Data & Advice through Blogging & Social Media” #DigiDeath Online Conference

A photo of me in 2019, working at Brickstreet Cemetery, London, ON.

Today’s post is an extended version of the presentation I gave on twitter on January 27th, 2021, for the University of Chester Archaeology Student conference, ‘DigiDeath’. A thank you to the conference & Prof. Howard Williams for the invitation to present on my public archaeology work online. Without further adieu, my presentation! This presentation was done on twitter, so the formatting will reference that format.

Abstract: This presentation will discuss the benefits and pitfalls of utilizing digital means, such as twitter, facebook, and blogs, to disseminate gravestone documentation and conservation information. As a heritage professional and historic archaeologist, my research discussions online often brings me into direct contact with the public, volunteers who provide the majority of the restoration of historic burial grounds. I will discuss how we can utilize these channels to ensure up-to-date conservation techniques are making it to these groups, and how we can all benefit from a digital communication for conservation.

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Archaeology of Death: The Renews Grotto

This blog post was written by Jasper Pritchard, for the Archaeology of Death undergraduate course in Fall 2020 at Memorial University of Newfoundland, taught by Dr. Meghan Burchell. They graciously allowed it to be posted on Spade & the Grave, thanks Jasper!

By all accounts, the town of Renews is a serene landscape. Like many spots on the Southern Shore, the quiet but powerful presence of the sea envelops this small community like a blanket, and reminders of Newfoundland history are wrapped up with the clotheslines and sheds that make up daily life. Just one hour from the city of St.John’s, it’s a must visit when I make a day trip up the shore. I remember vividly when my friend Kathleen and I came upon it in 2015. In exchange for using her photos for this assignment I must refer to her as “my amazing, wonderful friend Kathleen”. Kathleen had taken me out to Calvert to meet her grandparents and we made a few stops before and after. We were nearing Renews and looking for a spot to turn around when we spotted an orange sign that read “RENEWS GROTTO” with an arrow pointing to the left. I didn’t even know what a grotto was at that point but decided I should find out.

We spent some time puttering around trying to find it. No one seemed to be around. There was a white shed with “COME IN BYE” written in red paint across the door, another with an abandoned coke vending machine sitting outside it that looked at least 30 years old. Long dead remains of a moose, and a dog gnawing at the pelt somehow did not detract from the picturesque quality of the town, if anything it added something.

Figure 1: A very scary shed, courtesy of Kathleen Walsh
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Archaeology of Death: The Amelia Earhart Statue in Harbour Grace, NL

This blog post was written by Hannah Cooper, for the Archaeology of Death undergraduate course in Fall 2020 at Memorial University of Newfoundland, taught by Dr. Meghan Burchell. They graciously allowed it to be posted on Spade & the Grave, thanks Hannah!

Photo of the Earhart Statue, Harbour Grace (image from Wikipedia)

Most of us have already heard of the famous aviatress.  Still, it was her untimely disappearance that mystified generations on end.  For this reason, it has sometimes been hard to remember that Earhart was first and foremost human, even with her massive and overarching legacy.  And so, statues like these remind us of the very human-side to such people as Earhart, before she disappeared into the history books.

History

I suppose that it should not be unreasonable to work under the assumption that most of us would know at least the skeletal remains of Amelia Earhart’s story.  I still did want to include some history about her, though, so that we can have just a bit more context on the woman forged from bronze that we see in Harbour Grace today.

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Archaeology of Death: The Ocean Ranger Memorial Garden

This blog post was written by Megan MacKinnon, for the Archaeology of Death undergraduate course in Fall 2020 at Memorial University of Newfoundland, taught by Dr. Meghan Burchell. They graciously allowed it to be posted on Spade & the Grave, thanks Megan!

The sinking of the Ocean Ranger oil rig was a tragedy that felt close to home for Newfoundlanders for many reasons. The rig, a workplace for many Newfoundlanders, sank just off the shores of St. John’s.  The majority of crewmates who passed in the accident resided in Newfoundland, leaving the Island to grieve for their loss. The sinking of the rig beginning discussions of workplace safety offshore struck a chord with many Newfoundlanders finding trade jobs in remote, and often dangerous situations. In many ways, it is safe to say all of Newfoundland felt the loss that dark day in February.

Figure 1: Map of Newfoundland with Ocean Ranger location point (Collier, 2010)

The Ocean Ranger was the world’s largest semisubmersible oilrig, about 315km off the coast of St. John’s Newfoundland within the Hibernia oil field (Collier, 2010).

 “The Ocean Ranger was a self-propelled, semi-submersible offshore drilling rig, designed and built by ODECO (Offshore Drilling and Exploration Company) for use in offshore oil exploration. At 121 metres long, 80 metres wide, and 103 metres tall, it was the largest rig of its kind when it was launched in 1976.” (Collier, 2010) On February 15th of 1982 tragedy struck when a winter storm passed over the area forecasted winds of 90 Knots and waves up to 37 feet, sinking the rig (Collier, 2010). The Federal-Provincial Royal Commission on the Ocean Ranger Marine Disaster found the cause of the rig’s sinking to be that seawater entered its ballast control room through a broken porthole and caused an electrical malfunction in the ballast panel controlling the rig’s stability (Pitt, 2006). This accident took the lives of all 84 crewmembers, 56 of which were Newfoundlanders (Pitt, 2006). The tragedy was felt across the entire province and resulted in inquiries about workplace safety for the workers of the rig. The Royal Commission on the Ocean Ranger Marine Disaster determined that much of the hazards could be attributed to flaws of the workplace itself, “the shattered portlight and chain lockers that were not water tight, for instance. The crew did not fully understand what to do in the case of an emergency involving the Ranger’s ballast control system. The lifesaving equipment was judged inadequate, and the crew lacked training in its use (Collier, 2010).” These combined factors contributed to the great loss of life in Newfoundland that day and began an important discussion of workplace safety for those who work away within our province.

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Archaeology of Death: Terry Fox Memorial, St. John’s

This blog post was written by Calum Brydon, for the Archaeology of Death undergraduate course in Fall 2020 at Memorial University of Newfoundland, taught by Dr. Meghan Burchell. They graciously allowed it to be posted on Spade & the Grave, thanks Calum!

In a small park behind the Port Authority Building in St. John’s, Newfoundland and Labrador, stands a bronze statue of a man dipping a prosthetic foot into the Atlantic Ocean. Terry Fox began his Marathon of Hope not far from that location on April 12, 1980 (“Terry Fox Commemorated,” 2012). He set out to run across Canada, on one leg, asking for each Canadian to donate one dollar to cancer research, so that he could raise 24 million dollars for people who had been put in similar situations as he had been three years earlier. As most know, Fox’s marathon ended on September 1, 1980, outside of Thunder Bay, Ontario, after his cancer had spread to his lungs. He had already traversed parts of Newfoundland and Labrador, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, New Brunswick, Quebec, and Ontario, running an average of 42 kilometres a day and having already raised millions of dollars. Fox surpassed his fundraising goal of 24 million dollars on February 1, 1981, but he died several months later, in June 1981 (“Terry Fox,” 2020). Over the next 40 years since the Marathon of Hope began, over 800 million dollars have been raised for cancer research in Terry Fox’s name (“Facts about Terry,” 2020).

Fox is commemorated worldwide through annual Terry Fox runs, and several schools, roads, and parks bear his name across Canada (“Honours,” 2020). Several statues of Fox can also be found across the country. One of these statues is in Thunder Bay, where Fox’s run came to its unexpected end, while sister statues in St. John’s, Newfoundland and Labrador and Victoria, British Columbia, mark the start and planned end points of the Marathon of Hope (“List of Monuments,” 2020).

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Archaeology of Death: ‘Betty’s Statue’: A Grandfather’s Remembrance

This blog post was written by Alison Batstone, for the Archaeology of Death undergraduate course in Fall 2020 at Memorial University of Newfoundland, taught by Dr. Meghan Burchell. They graciously allowed it to be posted on Spade & the Grave, thanks Alison!

The Peter Pan Statue (Branes, 2020)

Above is a photo taken of the Peter Pan Statue located in Bowring Park, St. John’s NL. The statue is centered in the picture, a bronze sculpture of children, animals and plants swirling around a rock perch as Peter stands atop playing flute; most characters, including Peter, are wearing small shifts as clothing. The statue sits on a stone walkway, and is framed by a duck pond and leafy trees. It is autumn, and green, orange and yellow leaves cover the grass and stones behind the monument. (Branes, 2020).

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