Spade & the Grave

death and burial through an archaeological lens


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Archaeology of Death: The Controversial Statue of Gaspar Corte-Real

This blog post was written by Emma Nugent, for the Archaeology of Death undergraduate course in Fall 2020 at Memorial University of Newfoundland, taught by Dr. Meghan Burchell. They graciously allowed it to be posted on Spade & the Grave, thanks Emma!

Image of the statue of Gaspare Corte-Real, the statue is outdoors and his arms are crossed (image from VOCM).

Across from the Newfoundland Confederation building, there is a statue of Portuguese explorer and slave trader, Gaspar Corte-Real (commonly mistaken for John Cabot). It has become one of the many targets in the recent push to remove monuments of slave traders and colonialists internationally. The push to remove this statue is not only because of Corte-Real’s history as a slaver, but also because of the very shady political baggage it carries.

The history of Corte-Real is a short one. He is presumed to have lived between 1450 and 1501. He was a Portuguese explorer who possibly came to Newfoundland, or maybe Labrador, or maybe Greenland in 1501. After reaching Newfoundland (or Labrador, or Greenland) he kidnapped 57 Indigenous people, took them back to Europe to be sold as slaves, then returned to Atlantic waters where he went missing in 1501 (McLeod 2017). One of his brothers searched for him, only to go missing himself in 1502. There was a third brother, but he was denied permission to search for the first two (Marsh 2008). Overall, his impact on discovering the Americas was a very small one, as well as his impact on establishing a Portuguese presence in Newfoundland. What he did was what many European explorers were doing at the time, kidnapping Indigenous people and going missing. His history isn’t even very conclusive, and he clearly isn’t well remembered (considering he is mistaken for many other prominent colonialists). All of this begs the question: Why does this guy have a monument, especially in such a prominent location?

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Archaeology of Death: Student Blog Post Mini-Series

Landscape photo at St. John the Evangelist Cemetery, Newfoundland (photo by Dr. Burchell 2020)

Hello readers, I am very excited to be writing this introductory post for you all with Dr. Meghan Burchell, of Memorial University of Newfoundland. Dr. Burchell taught the undergraduate course ‘The Archaeology of Death’ this Fall 2020 semester, and I had the honour of being her TA! One of the student’s assignments for the course was to create a ‘blog-style’ post which would explore a monument, mostly within the province of Newfoundland and Labrador, to examine the history and politics of monumentalization. 

Part of the challenge with the course and its assignments this semester was, of course, the fact that it was not face-to-face teaching in light of the pandemic. Adapting to the sudden switch to remote teaching brought to light the importance of creating records for, and digitizing said records for, historical artifacts and sites such as graveyards. While part of their coursework was to do just that, create digital records and analysing gravestones in Newfoundland, this blogging assignment asked different questions.

Their blogs answered a number of questions, including:

  • “What does the landscape of monuments in Newfoundland and Labrador look like?”
  • “How can we create a digital landscape of monuments, whether they are memorials, graves, or other monumental sites or objects?”
  • “How are people and events commemorated and remembered in Newfoundland and Labrador?” 
  • “What does a memorial tell us about the site / event / person, as well as the people who erected it?”

Everyone did an amazing job on their blog posts, and in the end I selected six examples to post on Spade & the Grave, that I thought fit well into the theme of this website and with the research that I undertake in death and burial archaeology. The next six posts, written by undergraduate students at MUN, examine monuments and their meaning across the province. In this series we will look at the Peter Pan Statue in Bowring Park, the Terry Fox statue by the harbour in St. John’s, the Statue of Amelia Earhart in Harbour Grace, the Ocean Ranger Disaster Monument, the Renews Grotto, and the controversy of the Gaspar Corte-Real statue. 

It was wonderful to read what the students thought about monumentalization within the province, as well as how these sites impacted their view of the historic events or people they commemorated. Please join us for the series, as we share this series over the last two weeks of 2020!

Student Blog Post Links:

  1. Emma Nugent: The Controversial Statue of Gasper Corte-Real
  2. Alison Batstone: Betty’s Statue – A Grandfather’s Remembrance
  3. Calum Brydon: Terry Fox Memorial, St. John’s, NL
  4. Megan MacKinnon: Ocean Ranger Memorial Garden
  5. Hannah Cooper: Amelia Earhart Statue, Harbour Grace, NL
  6. Jasper Pritchard: The Renews Grotto

Thank you for joining us for this exciting series!


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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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Death & Decay in Cultural Heritage Structures

Front Facade

This post was written by myself, Robyn Lacy, and my friend and colleague (and often collaborator) Elizabeth Cushing, of Cushing Design Group.

We have worked in cultural heritage together since 2017, and have spent a lot of time discussing the preservation and curated decay in heritage structures. I’ve written about curated decay before on my blog, but today we wanted to discuss decay within structures, and highlight the design and historical significance of this Georgian style home in Upper Canard, Nova Scotia. All photographs in this post were taken by Elizabeth Cushing, unless otherwise noted.

This magnificent Georgian country estate, complete with summer kitchen to the left of the main house, was constructed in 1790 and was the childhood home of Sir. Frederick Borden (no relation to Charles Borden, who developed the Borden System, which is used to define the location of all archaeological sites in Canada). Sir Frederick William Borden (1847-1917) was a physician, businessman, militia officer and politician who practiced medicine in Canning, while also investing in ships, utilities and real estate. He was an investor in the Cornwallis Railway Company Limited, the Canning Water and Electric Light, Heating and Power Company Limited and the Western Chronicle, and owned two 125 to 150 ton vessels. 

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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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Serviceberries, Winter Deaths, & Spring Funerals

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Service, or Saskatoon, berries (image from wikipedia)

Hello readers, I am excited to let you all know that I will be starting my PhD at Memorial University of Newfoundland (from Ontario for now because of covid) in Historical Archaeology this week! Now that I am no longer in the field as a CRM (cultural resource management) archaeologist, I am hoping to be able to update this site on my ongoing, and upcoming, research and project. Please join me on this morbid research adventure!

Today I wanted to talk about berries, and their association with death and burial. My friend Katie, a fellow PhD student in folklore, sent me a very interesting article this morning by CBC contributor and chef Andie Bulman on berry harvesting in Newfoundland and Labrador. In the article, Bulman (2020) discusses the history of the serviceberry, also known as the saskatoon berry (which is what I know them as). I was surprised that they have a potential connection to my research on winter funerals!

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Book Launch: Burial & Death in Colonial North America

I’m so pleased to announce the publication of my first book, ‘Burial and Death in Colonial North America: Exploring Interment Practices and Landscapes in 17th-Century British Settlements‘, published by Emerald Published Ltd!

This book has been in the works technically since 2018, but really several years prior, as it incorporates a lot of my Master’s research! It is also filled with a bunch of really cool other stuff about 17th-century burial landscapes and practices, coffins styles, soil stains (well, I think they’re cool), and protective symbols on graves!

Published in Emerald’s ‘Emerald Points’ series, the book is available for pre-order through the Emerald Publishing website, Amazon, and The Book Depository, as both an ebook and a print book (pre-orders are open on some sites). It will be available as an ebook through multiple carriers soon!

If you are interested in downloading the flyer, CLICK HERE.

Thank you to everyone who helped me through this process, my family, friends, editors, twitter, etc! My two goals in life as a child were to become an archaeologist and to publish books. I always assumed that my first published book would be a novel, but I think academic books also check that box off (don’t worry, novel(s) are in the works)! The archaeology part has been covered for a while!

Citation:

Lacy, Robyn S. 2020. Burial and Death in Colonial North America: Exploring Interment Practices and Landscapes in 17th-Century British Settlement. Emerald Publishing Ltd.: Bingley, UK.


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In Conversation: Questions in Mortuary Archaeology

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Working at Woodland Cemetery to repair a complex marble monument (photo by Brienna French 2019)

Yesterday I had a the pleasure of answering a few questions about my research and work from Dr. Shawn Graham of Carlton University (@electricarchaeo on twitter), for his fall course, ‘Digital History and Digital Archaeology’. Now, I don’t really do digital archaeology, but the questions could be answered focusing on anyone’s specialities. I wanted to share the discussion with all of you! (these answers aren’t work-for-word my short interview answers, but pretty close!)

1. Who are you and what are you currently working on?
Hi everyone! My name is Robyn Lacy, and I’m a historical archaeologist. I work for a cultural resource management (CRM) firm in Ontario, where I am an archaeological, cultural heritage, and social media technician. I’ve been doing this job since early winter, but I’ll be starting my PhD in Historic Archaeology at Memorial University of Newfoundland (remotely at first)! I’m also finishing up my first book which is based on my Master’s research in 17th-century British burial landscapes in North America, and starting research on my second book as well. Exciting stuff!

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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!

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My field bag & gear I always carry! 

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Book Review: Changing Landscapes in Urban British Churchyards.

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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.

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