My goodness, what a whirlwind these past 7 weeks have been! With only one week to go, I can’t believe I’m nearly finished with these weekly(ish) blog updates of my training and work as a gravestone conservator. Here we go people, I can fix gravestones and know more about stone than I did two months ago! Does anyone want me to talk about stones forever…because too late, I’m never going to stop!
It was an exciting and productive week at the cemetery, so lets dive in! It was only a four-day week because last Monday was Canada Day, so I’m pretty impressed with all the things we got done.
Meagan & Thomas, archivist/historians, preparing for the July 6 tours.
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.
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.
From 2016 – 2017, I was involved in a project to excavate a settler burial ground in Foxtrap, Newfoundland. The excavation was run by Dr. Vaughan Grimes and Maria Lear of the Archaeology Department at Memorial University of Newfoundland, and is under an active archaeological permit through the Provincial Archaeology Office (PAO) of the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador throughout post-excavation analysis. A handful of graduate students, including myself, made up the rest of the field crew.
Based on local knowledge and the PAO investigation of the site in 2006, we were already aware that there was likely a burial ground at this location, based on the several erect and laying markers and fragments of gravestone with inscribed text. While no single record appears to exist for who was buried at this site, and it only had one gravestone with inscriptions on it, the identities of most of the individuals interred there will likely remain a mystery (and that one gravestone was broken and out of situ so we have no idea whose grave it belongs to). Plans are already afoot to re-inter the remains nearby once they have been cleaned and studied.
I am honoured to have been part of the team exhuming this site, as it was the first full historical settler burial ground to be excavated in the province, and so much about early populations could (and will) be learned from those who were buried there. Continue reading →
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!
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:
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.
I recently had the honour of presenting some of my research at the Transmortality Conference in Luxembourg City, Luxembourg. The conference dealt with the themes of materiality and spatiality of death and dying historically and in modernity, and as my research mainly deals with spatial aspects of burial landscapes, I was beyond excited to attend and present at the conference, and chat with like-minded researchers from all over the world!
The Transmortality project is being conducted by Université du Luxembourg, and if you’re interested in their work, there will be a special issue of the journal Mortality coming out on the theme in 2019. More information on the project can be found here: https://transmortality.uni.lu/ Continue reading →
In a place often referred to as ‘The Rock’, it sounds a bit redundant to be importing gravestones, but for a period in the 18th-early 19th century, that is exactly what people in Newfoundland were doing. By people, I of course mean people who could afford to have gravestone carved overseas and shipped across the ocean. There are locally carved gravestones as well going back to the 17th-century! I even have a puzzle for all of you gravestone enthusiasts out there, but we’ll get to that in a moment. Continue reading →
Archaeology isn’t quite like they show it in the movies or on Time Team. Of course, we all wish we could just walk into an area, feel the wind, and know exactly where a site is but unfortunately it doesn’t work like that (and we usually have more than 3 days if excavations are happening too)!
Last summer during my excavation at Ferryland, there were quite a few moments that started out feeling as if we’d found something very dramatic, which quickly dissolved into mild disappointment and sighs. But that’s archaeology right? If you’re doing a project that is looking for something, rather than trying to see what was happening in general, then there are going to be a lot of empty test pits. This one wasn’t empty though…