Spade & the Grave

death and burial through an archaeological lens


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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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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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“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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Curious Canadian Cemeteries: Castleton Cemetery, ON

Hello dear readers, it has been a while since I have written an entry for ‘Curious Canadian Cemeteries’! Today, I’d like to discuss the Castleton Cemetery in eastern Ontario, which I visited while on a camping weekend away. This site was opened in 1828and has been in continuous use for nearly 200 years. The site features many unique gravestones and examples of conservation and restoration that I’m excited to discuss with you all.

The site is located on the traditional territories of the Haudenosaunee, Anishinabewaki, and Mississauga Indigenous peoples (Native Lands 2020). All images in this post were taken by me on November 14th, 2020.

Sign at the entrance to the cemetery.
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Photography of Gravestones for a Historic Survey: A How-To Guide

This weekend, as the leaves are starting to change colour across Ontario, I have been thinking about gravestones (are you surprised?). More specifically, taking excellent photos for your historic survey of a burial ground. Of course, you can take photos any way you see fit, but this blog post is a guide to taking standard grave marker photos that optimise light, angle, and people that you have helping with the survey. Below, you will find examples of best practices for standardised gravestone photography, and some good examples of *not* to do.

I hope you can find some helpful tips in this post to take to your next project, or to share with a community that you are working with! All the photographs in this blog post were taken by me, unless otherwise noted.

The author kneeling to photograph a headstone (photo by Ian Petty 2020)
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Pinning Historic Gravestones: A case for wood pins

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Example of an old rusted iron pin, Woodland Cemetery.

Yesterday I went for a social-distancing walk at Woodland Cemetery, visited a few repairs that we did last summer (all are holding up well!), and made note of a few gravestones that have suffered some new damage. One of these stones was one that was repaired a few years earlier by another team, using one of the pinning methods that is accepted as a safe conservation technique for historic gravestones.

Historically, gravestones that had pins in them were attached together using iron, lead, or copper. The issues with the iron pins is, of course, that they can easily rust the moment moisture gets into the space, which in turn will cause the stone to crack from the inside. This damage is difficult to repair, which is why we don’t use these anymore! In place of iron, stainless steel pins have been used in more recent decades to hold broken stones together, and more recently these are being replaced with fibreglass rods. However, these materials, while they don’t rust, they have their own issues.

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Curious Canadian Cemeteries: Kilworth (Baker) Cemetery, Delaware Township, Middlesex County, ON

Today’s Curious Canadian Cemeteries is brought to you by being trapped inside during Week 3-to-4 of work-from-home-quarantine. What an interesting time we are living in…? Let me help distract you for a moment with this post about a small burial ground near London, ON, the Kilworth (Baker) Cemetery, Delaware Township, Middlesex County, Ontario.

I came across this site while heading out to a sugar bush (several weeks ago, when we were still able to go outside and do things! #socialdistancing). Despite living in Ontario since 2017, I hadn’t managed to go to a sugar bush before, so that in itself was exciting! Of course, I was more than happy to add a little burial ground visit into the trip when we spotted this one along the side of the road.

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View looking east from the entryway (photo by author 2020)

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Holiday (/Conference) Diaries: SHA 2020 Boston, MA

Fresh off the airplane from Boston, and back to the blog! This past week I had the pleasure of attending the Society for Historical Archaeology’s (SHA) 2020 Annual Meeting in Boston, MA. It was my first SHA conference, and definitely one of the largest conferences I’ve had the change to attend so far, and it was such a wonderful experience! Of course, we did some touristing while we were in town…and most of the talks I attended had everything to do with colonial burials & settlements!

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Back Bay, Boston MA

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Podcast appearance: The Arch & Anth Podcast

Hello friends! Recently, I recorded a podcast episode for The Arch & Anth Podcast, with Dr. Michael Rivera. We chatted about my research in death and burial, work in CRM archaeology, and gravestone conservation. It was lovely, and the episode is out now!

You can listen to the episode by clicking on the link below, or by looking for the podcast on Spotify, Stitcher, iTunes, etc.

Episode 91: What is involved in cultural resource management, cemetery conservation and public archaeology? 

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Hanging out with Samuel Dale at Brickstreet Cemetery.

 


Engagement with Death & Burial: Questions & Comments to a Burial Archaeologist

You might have seen in one of my more recent posts that I was involved in the Doors Open event in London, answering questions and giving tours of two burial grounds that I worked at over the past years: Woodland Cemetery and the Brick Street Cemetery. I’m not going to reiterate that post (though it is linked above if you wanted to check it out), but in reminiscing that even earlier this week, I found myself thinking a bit more about public archaeology of death and burial and how we interpret these topics to the public.

First thing in January I will be presenting a poster at the Society for Historical Archaeology conference with my friend Sarah that follows a little in line with this topic. Our poster is titled “In Memoriam: Challenges in Historic Burial Ground Conservation” and some of these challenges arise when information about conservation and burial grounds are adequately communicated to the public. I’ll be posting more about the poster in Jan, but it bleeds into today’s topic a little!

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A view of Woodland Cemetery, Section R, facing west. 

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