Spade & the Grave

death and burial through an archaeological lens


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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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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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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!

Yay!!

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.

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The author with a cemetery sign, 2018.

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