Spade & the Grave

death and burial through an archaeological lens


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The Old Durham Cemetery: Exploring the early 18th-century

For Easter holiday this year, we had the fortune of traveling to Connecticut to visit my partner’s family, eat a lot of chocolate, and (of course) explore some historic burial grounds. Since this was a short trip we only made it to two, and today I’d like to take you on a little tour of the Old Durham Cemetery in Durham, CT, which opened in 1700!

The modern name of the site includes the word ‘cemetery’ but as you may already know, that term wasn’t utilized in North America until the 1830s, so I’ll continue this post referring to it as a ‘burial ground’ unless using the site’s name. xxx20190421_103722 Continue reading


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Burial & Death in Colonial North America

As I sit at my desk writing this, the snow is starting to fall again outside, covering every surface with a thin layer of pebbly ice. I opened my email to see a very exciting message, which included an image…the final cover image for my book!

I’m so pleased to formally announce (on my blog, I kind of already did on twitter) that I am in the process of writing a book! It deals with a lot of the themes that my Masters research touched on, with a focus of the spatial analysis of 17th-century burial landscapes in British North American settlements, religious and political changes that affected the development of burial practices in the colonial period, and other interesting topics like gravestone iconography development on the Atlantic coast (aka: not puritan deaths heads, hexfoils, non-decorated stones…my favourite things, pretty well).

The book is being published with Emerald Publishing Ltd.’s “Emerald Studies in Death and Culture” and will be titled: “Burial and Death in Colonial North America: Exploring Interment Practices and Landscapes in 17th-Century British Settlements.” 

Final Cover

If you are interested in learning more about the book series, or about my addition to the awesome collection when it comes online, check out the series page at Emerald Studies in Death and Culture at that hyperlink. I think this book is slated to come out in the late spring, but first I need to get through all of the edits and formatting and more edits. Wish me luck! 🙂

Thank you to my editors for guiding me along the book-publishing path so far. It’s such an amazing opportunity for an early-career researcher to be able to get their work out there like this, and I’m so happy for the chance to turn my giant thesis project into something that people might actually like to read! Publishing a book was one of the two goals I’ve had since childhood (the other was being an archaeologist, so check and check), and while I meant fiction originally, this definitely counts. On to editing!

emerald publishing


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Imported gravestones from Massachusetts in Atlantic Canada & examples from Cambridge (One common skull, continued)

Previously on this blog I have discussed what I like to call the “one common skull”. It is a death’s head design, a name given to a motif with a central winged skull, sometimes with crossed bones nearby, or an hourglass, or any other mortality symbol really, and was popular through the 17th and 18th centuries on gravestones throughout eastern North America. The use of mortality symbols in the colonial period draws inspiration from the medieval use of these same symbols to remind viewers of their mortality and was popular across many different groups, not because Puritans were particularly morbid.

If you missed the previous posts and want to catch up, you can read about Outsourcing Monuments in Newfoundland or a small case study at the Old Burying Point in Salem, MA by clicking those links. Then come back and join us here!

This style of gravestone is particularly interesting to me because it is everywhere on the Atlantic coast, throughout the colonial period! While mortuary archaeologists and art historians can say that this style, characterized by the central winged skull with a V-shaped nose in the lunette, small finials with a circular design inside, and the same leafy and circular pattern down the borders around the central text, originated in Massachusetts, it seems like we still don’t know who the carver (or school of carvers) was who is responsible. I don’t have an answer for that yet, but I do want to take a closer look at the chronology of the style in MA compared to imported varieties in Atlantic Canada.
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