Spade & the Grave

death and burial through an archaeological lens


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Imported gravestones from Massachusetts in Atlantic Canada & examples from Cambridge (One common skull, continued)

Previously on this blog I have discussed what I like to call the “one common skull”. It is a death’s head design, a name given to a motif with a central winged skull, sometimes with crossed bones nearby, or an hourglass, or any other mortality symbol really, and was popular through the 17th and 18th centuries on gravestones throughout eastern North America. The use of mortality symbols in the colonial period draws inspiration from the medieval use of these same symbols to remind viewers of their mortality and was popular across many different groups, not because Puritans were particularly morbid.

If you missed the previous posts and want to catch up, you can read about Outsourcing Monuments in Newfoundland or a small case study at the Old Burying Point in Salem, MA by clicking those links. Then come back and join us here!

This style of gravestone is particularly interesting to me because it is everywhere on the Atlantic coast, throughout the colonial period! While mortuary archaeologists and art historians can say that this style, characterized by the central winged skull with a V-shaped nose in the lunette, small finials with a circular design inside, and the same leafy and circular pattern down the borders around the central text, originated in Massachusetts, it seems like we still don’t know who the carver (or school of carvers) was who is responsible. I don’t have an answer for that yet, but I do want to take a closer look at the chronology of the style in MA compared to imported varieties in Atlantic Canada.
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View of the Putnam Burying Ground, Saratoga Springs, New York State

A little while ago, we went on a mini-holiday to Saratoga Springs, NY, for the Canada Day long weekend.  I was very excited to do several things I’ve always wanted to do in Saratoga:

a) Visit some of the springs / drink out of them
b) See a burial ground (literally any, how did I miss doing this last time I was there?)
c) swim in the Victoria pool (this one was added a few weeks before the trip when I found out the pool existed. Totally worth the trip!)

Welcome to the Putnam Burying Ground, which we did not think to call ahead to and therefore couldn’t actually go inside!

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View of the Putnam Burial Ground from the street, with the Putnam Family Plot to the left of centre (photo by author, 2018)

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Curious Canadian Cemeteries: The Rockwood Cemetery, Rockwood, Ontario

Hello burial team, it’s finally time for another addition of Curious Canadian Cemeteries! This week we are looking at the Rockwood Cemetery, in the settlement of Rockwood, Township of Guelph/Eramosa, Wellington County, Ontario. This is my first ‘close-to-me’ cemetery that I’ll be covering!

I’ve talked about Rockwood before on this blog, when I posted about John Harris, my great x4 grandfather, who helped found the current settlement of Rockwood, and Thomas Harris, my great x3 grandfather who constructed Harris Woolen Mill with his brother and brother-in-law. The Mill is still present today by the Eramosa River as a ruin that can be visited and explored! Those very same relatives were buried in the the Rockwood Cemetery. 

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The sign & chapel at the Rockwood Cemetery (photo by author, 2018)

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Curious Canadian Cemeteries: St. Saviour’s Anglican Cemetery, Penticton, British Columbia.

Hello there, death and burial aficionados! I come to you today with a new series that I’m starting on Spade & the Grave called ‘Curious Canadian Cemeteries’ (cemeteries because it works for the 3 C’s, not because I totally agree with the term for all sites). Recently, I’ve noticed that a lot of publications that talk about burial sites around the world tend to gloss over Canadian sites, and I’d love to bring a few of the amazing burial grounds across the country into a bit of the spotlight! So if you have any interesting suggestions, I’d love to hear them! I’m going to try to make this either a weekly or bi-weekly feature on the blog, amidst other posts as I think of them.

Burial grounds, graveyards, cemeteries…whatever the terminology is for the site, every one holds a unique history and place within the landscape. While large, famous sites like Mount Auburn Cemetery or the Granary in Boston see visitors every day due to their publicity (and amazing monuments), there are hundreds of smaller burial grounds across North America and the world, that have just as rich of a back story, but might not be quite so obvious to the burial ground visitor on the go. Sites like these were meant to be visited, cared for, and enjoyed. They were created for the living just as much as the dead, and visiting historical burial grounds isn’t morbid. So without further adieu, lets virtually visit some unique burial grounds, from across Canada!

For my first post in the series, I wanted to feature a graveyard from one of my childhood homes (we moved a lot!), and the place that I lived in for the longest:
Penticton, British Columbia.

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Skaha Lake, looking south towards Okanagan Falls (Image from westjet.com)

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Burial by the Sea: Historical Burial Ground excavation in Newfoundland

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.
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Burial Ground Conservation – Do’s & Don’ts

Nov19_2Hello readers! It’s been a few weeks since I’ve written anything on here, but don’t let that make you think I’ve not been working away in heritage, no sir! In fact, since I last posted on, I graduated with my MA (focus on Historical Archaeology), moved to Ontario, and started a new job as a Cultural Heritage Specialist. Need a heritage building assessed, or a burial ground examined (or conservation plans for either)? Give me a shout!

Now that I’ve mentioned burial grounds (because what kind of death & archaeology blog would this be if that wasn’t what I was talking about), I wanted to discuss something that comes up a lot when discussing burial sites, historic or modern, with members of the public: Conservation in the burial ground. By that I mean practices that will help preserve the integrity and survival of the site, but also for the gravestones themselves as an important aspect of the space and a document about those buried in it.
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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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