Spade & the Grave

death and burial through an archaeological lens


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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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Curious Canadian Cemeteries: Juggler’s Cove Burial Site, Bay Roberts, NL

Hello again readers, we are back today with another ‘Curious Canadian Cemeteries’! But first, an update:The last few weeks have been hectic; I’ve finished my PhD coursework already somehow, and after a little break, I have begun to work through readings in preparation for my comprehensive exams (also known as comps) this fall, which will involve writing two papers and then orally defending them. I’ve also been preparing for fieldwork and writing some reports for Black Cat which is very exciting, alongside preparing for my research fieldwork this summer as well. All of this involves extra hoops in these ‘uNpReCiDeNtEd TiMeS’ (anyone else sick of hearing that yet?), but projects are nearly set up and I am really looking forward to crawling out from behind my desk sometime soon!

With that, let’s get into today’s cemetery: the Juggler’s Cove Burial Site, Bay Roberts, NL!

View of the Juggler’s Cove burial site and ocean beyond (photos by author 2021).
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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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