Spade & the Grave

death and burial through an archaeological lens


Engagement with Death & Burial: Questions & Comments to a Burial Archaeologist

You might have seen in one of my more recent posts that I was involved in the Doors Open event in London, answering questions and giving tours of two burial grounds that I worked at over the past years: Woodland Cemetery and the Brick Street Cemetery. I’m not going to reiterate that post (though it is linked above if you wanted to check it out), but in reminiscing that even earlier this week, I found myself thinking a bit more about public archaeology of death and burial and how we interpret these topics to the public.

First thing in January I will be presenting a poster at the Society for Historical Archaeology conference with my friend Sarah that follows a little in line with this topic. Our poster is titled “In Memoriam: Challenges in Historic Burial Ground Conservation” and some of these challenges arise when information about conservation and burial grounds are adequately communicated to the public. I’ll be posting more about the poster in Jan, but it bleeds into today’s topic a little!

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A view of Woodland Cemetery, Section R, facing west. 

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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.

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When is a grave no longer a grave?

This is a topic I’ve discussed with colleagues on several occasions, and most recently in a really engaging thread on twitter: When is a grave…no longer a grave? If ever, at what point might that happen? There isn’t one definitive answer to this question, and the understanding of a grave, its significance, and longevity are rooted in our backgrounds, cultures, and society.  I’ve finally found some time to sit down and write up the results of the discussion, and share some thoughts with you all.

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An Inconvenient Corpse: Winter Dead in colonial Canada / Death Salon Boston 2018

Last week I had the utter pleasure of attending and presenting my research at Death Salon Boston, put on by the Order of the Good Death and hosted at Mount Auburn Cemetery. For anyone new to this blog / death and burial studies in general, Mount Auburn Cemetery is significant as the first landscaped rural garden cemetery in North America, opening in 1831 and is still an active cemetery today.

My talk, “An Inconvenient Corpse: Winter Dead in colonial Canada” discussed how  individuals at early colonial settlements dealt with their dead during the winter. It’s just not something we think about that much! I’d like to summarize my talk in this post for everyone who didn’t get to attend the conference (it sold out so quickly), and just some all around thoughts about my experience at Death Salon Boston!
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Death Salon Boston 2018 – An Inconvenient Corpse

If you’re following my research because you’re extra-interested in death and dying, there is a good chance that you already know about the Order of the Good Death. The Order is an organization founded by funeral director and death positive advocate Caitlin Doughty, and directed by curator Sarah Chavez. It advocates for education and discussion on death and dying, that speaking/working in/researching these subjects is not morbid, and that burials should be moving towards an environmentally conscious set of practices (among many other things!).

The Order hosts this annual, sort of a cross between a conference and a public event, with talks, tours, artists, ad all manner of people who work / study / have an interest in death, called the Death Salon. The last few years I’ve really wanted to attend the event, mostly out of curiosity of what was going on, but they have always been far away from where ever I was living at the time (ie. last year I was in YYT and the Death Salon was in Seattle!).

This year Death Salon is in Boston, MA!  The event will be taking place from:
September 28th – 30th, 2018, at Mount Auburn Cemetery. 

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Curious Canadian Cemeteries: Union Cemetery, Calgary, Alberta

We’re heading back west for this week’s Curious Canadian Cemeteries installment (ok I know its been a few weeks, but there is work to do and papers to write!), lets take a look at the famous (and rather large) Union Cemetery in Calgary, Alberta.

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Funeral procession at Union Cemetery, Calgary, 1911. (Glenbow Archives, NA-2315-6)

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New Perlican: Blank Gravestones & Mapping

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Myself, mapping away on our plan of St. Mark’s! Photo by Ian Petty

Yesterday I headed back to New Perlican with Ian Petty (2nd year MA student in Archaeology at MUN) to meet up with Dr. Shannon Lewis-Simpson from Memorial University of Newfoundland in order to continue with the surveying of the St. Mark’s historic burial ground. The weather was not ideal and I was hard-pressed to remember if we’d used a plastic drafting film or normal paper to draw the map on in the first place, so with rain in the forecast our fingers were crossed!

I wanted to go get as much of the burial ground mapped as possible before the rain set in…and before I had to start my new job! There will be more details on that major life change later though, this post is still about the burial ground in New Perlican.
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‘These are grave terms’ – terminology in historic mortuary archaeology (for colonial North America)

First of all, I’d like to start by acknowledging that my last post was two weeks ago and my reason for not posting more frequently is: a) the job hunt, and b) I have been madly finishing a paper and my thesis..which was submitted yesterday officially! Yay!

I thought it would be nice, and relevant to do a post today discussing terminology for burial spaces and monuments. The terms I’d like to go over have some history to them of course, but like anything, they can take on different meaning depending on who is using them and where they are in the world. For the purposes of this discussion, I’m looking exclusively at colonial North America because that is my current study area, and dealing with basically only British/Irish, Christian (Catholic/Anglican/Quaker/Puritan,etc) burial spaces at this point. (I’m looking forward to seeing how these change as I go back in time a bit for PhD research in a few years)

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Hartford, CT burial ground, facing the later-added church. Photo by author, 2015

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Tales from the Trenches: Ferryland Week 3, 2017

Here we are, 3/4 weeks complete for the 2017 field season!
Cumulatively, this makes my 9th week excavating at Ferryland in search of the 17th-century burials. Lets go over what we uncovered this passed week, and then I’d like to talk about visitors to public archaeology sites and what we know so far about the burial ground!

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Tales from the Trenches: Fieldwork Week 2, 2017 (or, why does this keep happening?)

Halfway through through the fieldwork season, and I already cannot believe the amount of earth we’ve moved in pursuit of the burial ground! It’s amazing, thank you to the week 1 & 2 crews for all the hard work you put in, I couldn’t have gotten this far without all of you (and your digging hands)!

It was an amazing week over all, so lets dive right in to what we got up to at Ferryland last week:

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17th-century building rubble from the brewhouse dismantling. We found lots of early-mid-17th-century objects between the fallen stones, as well as rich organic soil, charcoal, burned bones, and other organic material. Photo by author, 2017.

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