Spade & the Grave

death and burial through an archaeological lens


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.


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

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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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Ground Penetrating Radar in search of Graves – Newfoundland Edition

This morning I thought it might be fun to talk about geophysical scanning techniques.


SmartCart with 500mhz antenna, GPR survey at Tors Cover, 2016. Photo by author.

If you are coming to this blog knowing about what I was up to in the field last year, or having read my CAA poster last week, you’ll know that I attempted a wide-scale Ground Penetrating Radar (GPR) survey at Ferryland, Newfoundland, in May of 2016, with the help of our wonderful curator and GPR tech, Maria Lear. I was looking for anomalies in the results that could indicate a burial in the subsoil, either high-contrast anomalies that might suggest a coffin or coffin hardware or a depression or slump in the soil layers where a grave had settled over time. What were my results? We’ll get to that in a moment!

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Fallout Bunker Burials

I recently had the opportunity to visit Ottawa & Gatineau to attend the 50th Canadian Archaeology Association Conference, hosted by the Canadian Museum of History. It was an amazing meeting, and gave me the chance not only do discuss my research with a ton of Canadian archaeologists from all across the country and hear some really ridiculous stories, but also to connect with people whom until then I had only known through a digital network (twitter).


There were several very interesting talks on indigenous and historic burials at the conference, including several on remote sensing of graves (that is for another day, however!). After the conference, I got the opportunity to go on a tour of the Diefenbunker! It’s one of those sites that you hear about in high school social studies, giggle at the name of, and then don’t think about again until it comes up in the list of events at your conference. I knew I had to be on the tour, but I didn’t know that part of the tour was going to be about death! Lucky me, rightContinue reading


Welcome to Spade & the Grave

Good morning.

As I sit here trying to decide what to decide what exactly one is supposed to write to open a website up, to really invite people in, I can’t help but glance at my ‘academic’ bookshelf. There probably shouldn’t be quotations around that, that categorizes most of my books! There are books on medieval churches, old museums, lithic technologies, geoarchaeology, gravestone scripts, and the list goes on and on. The running theme between them all? Everyone that they talk about, all of the past peoples who used to populate the cities and countrysides of the world, have long since died.


But that’s what archaeology is, isn’t it? We study the past, and that means dealing with mortality on a near-daily basis. As someone who originally intended to go into maritime archaeology and ‘got distracted’ in a graveyard during my field field school, I think about death and dying pretty regularly. My own research is fairly landscape based (we’ll talk about that later), but in order to get to a spatial analysis I have to understand why certain spaces may have been used as they were, which means trying to death and burial practices, anxieties, and ideals for lots of different groups of people.

This blog was created after several colleagues and many visitors to the dig asked if I had a website. Spade & the Grave will contain aspects of my ongoing research, fieldwork updates during the summer, and interesting explorations into death and burial as I come across them. I hope you all enjoy, and get in touch if you want to know more!

Welcome to Spade & the Grave.

(photos are my own)