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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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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Catalogue of Octagonal Dead Houses of Ontario: 5th – 7th Structures Identified

If you’ve been around this website for more than a minute or two, you’ll have noticed that I’m really interested in what settlers did with their dead during the winter. I’ve written about dead houses several times on this blog, talked about them at Death Salon Boston 2018, am currently working on a paper on winter corpse disposal in colonial North America, and shout about them to anyone who listens!

A really interesting form of dead house is the octagonal structures that can be found in Ontario. As far as I know so far, these seven surviving examples (if anyone has one not listed in this post, please let me know!) are the only octagonal dead houses in the province, if not North America. The style was extremely localized to Toronto, and north of the City around Yonge Street.

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Richmond Hill Dead House (photo by author 2018)

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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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Winter Corpses: What to do with Dead Bodies in colonial Canada

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Dead house in Nain, Labrador (Jarvis 1995. From the Memorial University of Newfoundland-Intangible Cultural Heritage Inventory

Welcome back, dear readers, to another installment of a blog about burial practices and archaeology! Today I’d like to talk about something that is close to by heart (as the result of arguing about it during my thesis): What did people do with their dead bodies during the winter, in colonial Canada?! Well, there are a few options to discuss but the short answer is…

Keep them.
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