Spade & the Grave

death and burial through an archaeological lens


Leave a comment

What’s in my (Field) Bag?

Today’s post isn’t exactly death-related, but I wanted to take a sec and share what I carry with me into the field. If you are starting out in archaeology or are heading into your first field season in cultural resource management (CRM) or a field school, I hope this post can be a little helpful to you!

I’ve been doing fieldwork on and off since 2011, in Ireland, the Isle of Man, the UK, and Canada (BC, NL, and ON), and these items are things that I always like to have on me, and items that have stood the test of time being dragged around the mountains, overseas, corn fields, and most recently the blistering heat and random rain storms of Ontario! Lets dive in and take a look at what’s in my (field) bag!

20200729_182656 (1)

My field bag & gear I always carry! 

Continue reading


Leave a comment

Book Review: Changing Landscapes in Urban British Churchyards.

51w-q920EFL

This post is a formal review of the newly published ‘Changing Landscapes in Urban British Churchyards’ by S.E. Thornbush and Mary J. Thornbush (2020), for Bentham Science Publishers, Singapore.

While academic and public interest books on burial grounds are often published, they tend to only consider the gravestones, and not the spatiality of the burial ground. This book by Sylvia E. Thornbush and Mary J. Thornbush examines gravestones within multiple east coast cities in England and Scotland, as well as the sites’ locality. However, for a text that is titled ‘changing landscapes’, I was hoping for more of a study of the sites as landscapes and spaces over the gravestones.

The sites focused on in this book are situated close to the coast, as to examine the effects of coastal erosion on headstone legibility and weathering rates, although other sites, such as York, were also selected based on the quantity of gravestones available for examination. The goal of the research was to compare the classic Dethlefsen & Deetz 1966 iconographic study (reprinted: Deetz 1977) to trends in the UK. The authors note that there are linguistic features which marked ‘Puritanism’ used on epitaphs, as well as within the iconography. However the iconography, in particular the ‘Death’s Head’ is still wrongly associated with specifically Puritan beliefs. The main goal of the study is stated as looking for differences in style of headstones in England and Scotland from the C17th-C19th after the Protestant Reformation, and how were they distinct from those found in C19th New England.

Continue reading


Leave a comment

An Introduction of Archaeological Illustration: Small Finds Workshop

Picture 1

Portion of metal axe head (Lacy 2017)

This Friday, June 19th (Juneteenth), I taught an online workshop for the Newfoundland and Labrador Archaeology Society (NLAS). In case you missed the workshop or wanted a refresher after we wrapped up, I’ve turned the step-by-step drawing tips in a blog post. I presented the workshop from the occupied traditional territories of the Anishinaabek, Haudenosaunee, Lūnaapéewak, and Attawandaron peoples, under Treaty 6.

This post is a departure from my typical death and burial posts, The following post uses illustrations I drew specifically for the workshop, and I hope you find it helpful! In the field, I use my drawing skills in a number of ways, and it is always a skill worth investing time into. Please let me know if you have any questions.

Continue reading


4 Comments

Pinning Historic Gravestones: A case for wood pins

20190711_104935

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.

Continue reading


1 Comment

Death & Monumentation through Built Heritage

In my last post, I mentioned the ‘London Marble and Granite Company Limited’, which was originally founded by J.R. Peel, a renowned artist and gravestone carver. Today I’d like to talk a little more about about Peel, his shop, and the idea of death within the built landscape and our cultural heritage.

If you haven’t heard of John Robert Peel before, let us review. An artist, Peel was born in England in 1830, and married Amelia Margaret Hall in 1849. The couple relocated to London, Ontario in 1852. Peel became an art teacher, highly involved in the growing city’s art scene, and eventually carved gravestones! John and Amelia had several children, including Paul Peel and Mildred Peel, both noted Canadian artists.

20200307_131158 (1)

Continue reading


Leave a comment

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.

20200307_130921 (1)

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

Continue reading


Leave a comment

Interaction with Morbid Spaces: How we move & use burial grounds

This post is a digital summary version of a paper I’d written for a course during my undergrad, and later expanded on to present at the Transmortality conference in Luxembourg in 2017. I’m choosing to turn these ideas into a blog post, because I think it’s a rather interesting topic and I’d love to have a discussion with all of you about it! So let’s dive it, shall we?

By investigation the relationship between burial spaces and their communities, we can gain insight into the personal relationship between people and death. This post will explore interaction with burial spaces and the influence of these spaces on movement throughout history, from the 17th to the 21st centuries. I looked at Boston, MA and Guilford, CT as my case studies, through historic and modern accounts of being in the burial grounds, examining the multi-purpose use of many of these early Puritan sites.

Fig1_GuilfordGreen_RLacy

The Guilford Green, Guilford, CT (Photo by author 2016).

Continue reading


3 Comments

Ownership of the Grave: Who owns the Dead?

Some of you who are active in the archaeology twittersphere may have witnessed the incident that occurred last night / this morning / semi-ongoing. As it relates to burial archaeology specifically, I feel the need to expand on my original retweet.

Here is a breakdown: An archaeologist with a huge public platform, who is very well known for her branding of the term ‘space archaeology’ (this, in itself, it a whole other story), posted a request to her followers to help fund her latest archaeological investigations in Egypt, her primary study area.

Continue reading


4 Comments

Holiday Diaries: Exploring the History of Body-Snatching, Burial, & Mourning in Edinburgh, Scotland.

If you follow my social media, you might have gathered a few things recently. Firstly, I just got back from a lovely holiday in Scotland where I explored the morbid and macabre as one such as myself is wont to do, and secondly, I got engaged! So that is all very exciting, but because this is a death blog, I’m going to focus on the former for now.

The majority of my trip was based in the city of Edinburgh. The city is famous for being the home of the Royal Family’s Palace of Holyroodhouse, Edinburgh Castle and the Military Tattoo, and of course…Burke and Hare.

xxx20191008_113422

Edinburgh & the Firth of Forth, from Calton Hill (photo by author 2019)

Continue reading


1 Comment

On the Eighth Day: An Explanation for Octagonal Dead Houses

Hello again, fellow death & burial enthusiasts! My goal with these posts is to share my love of a type of structure that isn’t widely written about (clearly my goal is to change that), and inform you all about a burial practice that was reserved for the colder parts of the world…Canada, parts of the USA, the UK, etc. My research on the practice has been restricted to North America and the British Isles thus far, though it is also clear through readings that winter body storage had to happen in many other places as well (ie. Iceland). I can’t wait to dive in further!

Today I wanted to talk about why some of these structures are octagonal in Ontario, as opposed to a standard rectangular or subterranean structures. There might be a method to this madness!

5886003_05964f10_1024x1024

The 15th-century octagonal font at Stoke-by-Nayland, Suffolk, UK. (Image by Michael Garlick 2018)

Continue reading