Spade & the Grave

death and burial through an archaeological lens


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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.

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

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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!

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

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Doors Open London: London’s historic burial grounds

This past weekend was Doors Open London, which is a weekend where historic sites and buildings open their doors to the public, free of charge to allow everyone to see places that they might not otherwise have a chance to experience. It’s an awesome time to be a tourist in your own town, and quite a lot of cities participate in the ‘Doors Open’ concept, all throughout the year! See if your city does…and if not, maybe encourage them to??

I had the pleasure of volunteering on Saturday at two sites: Brick Street Cemetery and Woodland Cemetery, both of which you’ll have heard oodles about already if you’ve been following my blog. There were some pretty cool things going on, and it was an awesome opportunity to participate in some public outreach and public archaeology!

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Significant Women of Brick Street Cemetery: Phoebe McNames, Silvany Tunks, & Hannah Caldwell

It’s a common theme throughout history, that women’s stories are swept under the rug, intentionally or not, to make way for the stories of history’s great men. Of course, with cis women, trans, queer, and otherwise non-gender-conforming individuals being present throughout history, the tales of ‘men’ are only a small fraction of the whole story.

Gravestones from the 19th century have a common formula when it comes to remembering women, and that is by labelling them as wife of… and often not providing any additional information about them. Often nothing much is recorded throughout history about them either, making it even more difficult to find anything else out other than who they married. Today I’d like to talk about three young women who are buried at Brick Street Cemetery, and were early settlers in the area in the mid-19th century: Phoebe McNames, Silvany Tunks, & Hannah Caldwell.

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Catalogue of Octagonal Dead Houses of Ontario: 8th Structures Identified

It is my greatest joy to share the identification of the 8th identified Octagonal Dead House in Ontario with you all! This structure was located and relayed to me by Adam Montgomery, PhD, who runs @CaCemeteryHist on twitter and the Canadian Cemeteries History website. I was so excited to hear about this site, and to add it to my growing database of the structures.

If you’ve missed my previous posts on this topic, please find them HERE and HERE. Those posts cover the use of dead houses historically, and have images of the other structures! They range from ornate stone to simple brick, and are something to behold.

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Burial Against All Odds

Today I’d like to write a short post to tell you all about a few amazing instances of the pursuit of a ‘proper’ burial against all odds. Before starting, I would like to state that this is a proper burial through the lens of primarily white settler communities in the 19th and 20th centuries in what is now Canada. Thanks!

What denotes a good burial? It can be defined by a person’s social status, their religion, their personal beliefs and choices, fads of the time, and a number of other things. A proper, good burial in the medieval period included being close to the altar, in ancient Egypt it meant having belongings with you to help in the afterlife, for southern USA enslaved families it meant being able to bury their dead in peace on their own terms. For settler communities in Newfoundland and mainland Canada, it meant being able to follow their traditional burial practices of  interment, regardless of the conditions.

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A buck at Woodland Cemetery (photo by author 2019)

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Brick Street Cemetery Stories: Quaker Stones & Attempted Murder

Hi all, can you believe it’s already nearly the middle of August? I can’t! It feels like just yesterday that I was starting my work at Woodland Cemetery. Tragically, that contract has ended, and I am working for another local historic cemetery for the next month or so, combing through their archival materials to create a book manuscript about the background of the site, their significant people and stories, and transcriptions of the gravestones themselves. Keep your eyes peeled, folks. It promises to be an interesting project!

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